Wednesday November 26, 2014

Cons have themselves to blame for lack of trust


Ingrid Rice’s editorial cartoon in last week’s newspaper pretty much says it all.

In the first panel a man holds a newspaper with the front page headline, “Conservatives want better data to fix Temporary Foreign Worker Program.” In the background a conversation is going in Parliament’s Centre Block.

“What we need is a data bank,” the first  voice says. “A depository where we can find reliable info on the Canadian employment situation... something other than Kijiji.”

A second voice answers: “You mean something like a national census?”

In the second panel the Peace Tower is silent. In the last panel, the first voice simply says “D’oh” in Homer Simpsonese.

Of course, axing the mandatory long form census was just one thing in a grotesque gutting of government’s evidence-based decision-making capacity.

So, it was rich to hear industry minister James Moore try to defend the government’s approval of the Northern Gateway on the basis of science.

Conservatives trying to re-imagine themselves as defenders of science would be laughable if it wasn’t so discouraging.

A quick review of just some of the anti-science agenda of this government quickly underscores just why reaction to the Northern Gateway approval is one of almost universal distrust.

First of all there have been significant layoffs of government scientists particularly in departments such as Environment, which tend to run contrary to Conservative political agenda. Those that remain are subject to draconian rules including requiring bureaucratic approval to publish research and restrictions on talking to journalists.

The disdain for evidence-based policy-making is further demonstrated by the discontinuation of both the Council of Science and Technology Advisors and the position of National Science Advisor.

In fact, the entire nature of government science has shifted from basic research to industry-related

Then there is the body to which the government points as its scientific basis for the Northern Gateway decision, the  Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2012, while cutting funding for these two organizations, the Conservatives  also increased their burden by reducing the number of departments and agencies involved in environmental assessments from 40 to just three. They called it “streamlining.”

When then-natural resources minister Joe Oliver made that announcement, condemnation was swift.

“After slashing funding to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, they’re now saddling it with the obligation to do more complex reviews, faster, with fewer resources,” said Megan Leslie, then-NDP environment critic.

I am not going to weigh in on the merits of the project. To its credit, the JRF put 209 conditions on Enbridge, the proponent of the project, which the Conservatives, to their credit, adopted.

That credit, though, is miniscule since they really had no other choice. Opposition to this project is, perhaps, fiercer than any other major energy project in Canadian history. At least, I cannot recall a more heated one.

And the Conservatives have, to a large degree, brought that on themselves. It’s a matter of trust. How could anyone trust a government that has shown such a flagrant disregard for evidence-based decision-making?

How could anyone trust someone like Joe Oliver who labels opponents “radicals” and accuses them of trying to undermine the Canadian Economy?

The JRF report could be the most sound scientific document ever produced, but Stephen Harper’s government has run out of political capital of any kind when it comes to environmental credibility.



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