Friday, 18 May 2012

Does our Federal government consider science an inconvenience?

By Don Pearson, General Manager, Conservation Ontario

It seems paradoxical that the federal government is so aggressively pursuing its anti-environmental agenda precisely when the weight of evidence demands the opposite response.  The human population reached 7 billion at the end of October, winter in North America simply wasn’t this year, and tornado season came early to the Midwest.  Insurance companies are bleeding red ink, and we are experiencing unprecedented economic hardship.  But, this government is fixated on addressing the economy by focusing on GDP growth, consumption, and traditional measures of economic health while seemingly ignoring the other side of the ledger! No doubt sociologists and criminologists are expressing the same frustration with the ideologically driven law and order agenda that flies in the face of trends and results elsewhere.

On Thursday of this week, we learned that the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario would lose the financial support of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, putting this world-class research facility in freshwater ecosystems that has been in operation since the 1960’s at risk.  According to the Globe and Mail, University of Alberta professor David Schindler said that employees were told the facility will be closed as of March 2013, and that universities, not governments, should be doing this kind of science.  Schindler argues that this type of large-scale, long-term research requires government support, and suggests that “we have a government that considers science an inconvenience.”  In a recent submission prepared for the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on a National Conservation Plan, Conservation Ontario made repeated statements about the need for action underpinned by a strong science, research, and monitoring framework.  That is how adaptive management works, and it is how we determine the effects and impacts of our activities and our interventions.   Governments do have a role to play in setting up frameworks, supporting coordination and collaboration, and working to establish a shared vision so that our collective efforts are effective.

Canada is blessed to have such a large percentage of the world’s freshwater (20% in the Great Lakes alone) within its borders – yet the abandonment of this world class research facility, coupled with its lengthy period of operation, signals that the federal government is dismissing its responsibility to manage its freshwater resources with the care they deserve.  We simply cannot blame those who are cynical about the motives of the federal government in establishing a National Conservation Plan (or at least, in talking about establishing one) when the government’s actions seem to run contrary to the Plan’s stated purpose “…to move our conservation objectives forward and better connect all Canadians with nature.  I believe Canadians still feel quite strongly about their environment, and this government will face the consequences of these ill-thought decisions in years to come.


  1. Very well put, Don -- I think you've captured the feelings that many have experienced over the past few months. Keep spreading the word.


  2. The problem is that, not only will the govt face the consequences in terms of voter support, but we'll face the consequences in terms of environmental degradation and lack of oversight of activities affecting aquatic environments. The impacts to our environment over the next 3 years (until the election) could prove difficult to recover from.

  3. Douglas Nuttall22 May 2012 at 14:05

    In the '50s and '60s, the governments trumpetted the benefits of Science, because science could demonstrate how improvements to the quality of life could be acheived through 'Development'. The difficulty now, in both the US and Canada, is that same science is saying that there won't be an improvement in the quality of life through 'Development', and unless it is very well done (eg, Sustainable Development), there can only be a decrease in quality of life. It is human nature; we only will listen to the messages we agree with. Since democratic governments follow, rather than lead, the will of the people must be to embrace the status quo. We didn't learn enough from history, apparently.