Op-eds and essays at the intersection of science and politics.

Information commissioner strangely silent on muzzled scientists

Suzanne Legault owes the public a report on her investigation into muzzled scientists before her term ends in December.

Let me ask again: What has become of Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault’s investigation into the muzzling of federal scientists?

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault launched an investigation into the muzzling of federal scientists in 2013. (Image Source: National Observer)
Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault launched an investigation into the muzzling of federal scientists in 2013. (Image Source: National Observer)

The investigation was launched more than four years ago on March 27, 2013, following a complaint from Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic. There have been only a few public statements that the investigation is still underway, and Legault’s 2017 annual report is strangely silent on the issue. Legault is due to leave her post in December.

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It’s time for action on Canada’s muzzled scientists

While we wait on info commissioner’s probe, a reminder of the story so far.

What has become of the federal Information Commissioner’s investigation into Canada’s muzzled federal scientists?

There’s evidence that scientists are being silenced, and that the government has been misleading the public and Parliament about it. The damage to the public interest is extensive and ongoing.

Yet in almost two and a half years since the investigation was launched, information commissioner Suzanne Legault hasn’t provided any information about its progress. Maybe the creeping investigation is due to the commission’s funding crisis, but no one is saying.

When I contacted the Office of the Information Commissioner in April, I got no answers. “The investigation is ongoing,” the office said. “We cannot comment further given the strict confidentiality rules governing our investigations.” The commission does not “speculate on a completion date for any of our investigations,” it said.

That’s not good enough. The stalled investigation has allowed the government to continue to muzzle federal scientists. Information that should be shaping our public policy debates is being kept from citizens.

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McQuaig was right about the oilsands. So what are we doing about it?

Science supports her contention that “a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground”.

Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig argued recently that “a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground” if Canada is to meet its climate change targets. She touched off a controversy that’s still simmering away.

But is she right? What does the science have to say about it?

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Nova Scotia’s energy plan is none of Oliver’s fracking business

The province is making a much-needed transition to low-carbon energy sources.

Nova Scotia’s decision to continue a provincial moratorium on fracking for natural gas has drawn fire from federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who called it a step back from “responsible” resource development.

Provincial Energy Minister Andrew Younger, meanwhile, insists his government is engaged in “responsible and sustainable development”. They can’t both be right.

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All hair, no cattle: Why Trudeau’s pipeline policy makes no sense

It’s another example of climate-change double-think so prevalent in our political class.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau recently accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being “all hat, no cattle” on oil pipelines. He’s right about Mr. Harper’s pipeline policy — but wrong about his own, which tries (and fails) to have it both ways.

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Climate change: the elephant in the room during fracking debate

Voting-age youth expressed their profound frustration with politics at Nota Scotia’s fracking review panel.

The public has spoken against proposals to frack for oil and gas in Nova Scotia. Will premier Stephen McNeil and energy minister Andrew Younger listen?

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Echoes of Walkerton in Environment Canada cuts

Health and safety of Canadians is at risk with latest slashing of Environment Canada budget.

Albert Einstein’s well-known definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is unsettlingly relevant to a new round of federal government cuts. The latest slashing of Environment Canada, which by 2016 will have half the budget it had in 2007, calls to mind a series of deep cuts to environmental protections in Ontario in the late 1990s. Some of the players are even the same, so they cannot reasonably claim to be ignorant of the tragic consequences.

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Climate change: Cynically hiding our heads in the sand

BC Premier Christy Clark’s pivot on oil pipelines is politics-as-usual.

First she was against Northern Gateway — now she’s for it. What a difference an election makes.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s reversal on the Northern Gateway pipeline project is typical of these cynical times we live in, when the lure of quick oil wealth outweighs any responsibility for the threat of climate pollution.

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Kent’s claims regarding Arctic PEARL ‘factually incorrect’

The environment minister is woefully uninformed about the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory.

Environment Minister Peter Kent is well-known for admonishing opposition members of parliament for “doing their research in the media”. In a letter to the Victoria Times-Colonist this past week, Kent provided an excellent example of why one should be careful about what one reads. He made several false claims about Canada’s Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL). As one of five co-founders of PEARL, I will be pleased to correct the Minister’s misconceptions and set the record straight.

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Telling Harper what he wants to hear

Something fishy is going on over at Environment Canada, where a recent report on greenhouse-gas emissions is uncharacteristically flawed – in favour of the Harper government’s position.

On Aug. 8, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada is half way toward meeting its greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions targets for 2020, and congratulated his government for having “set the stage for the progress we’ve achieved this year.” Minister Kent drew his remarks from a new Environment Canada (EC) report titled, “Canada’s Emissions Trends 2012.” Unfortunately, key conclusions made in the report are without merit, and the progress Minister Kent heralds is largely illusory. It appears that the Harper government is either meddling in EC’s science reporting or that EC, pulverized by cutbacks, has resorted to telling Kent what he wants to hear. Perhaps it is both.

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When opinion trumps scientific reason

Or the ideological basis for federal cuts to environmental spending.

The closure of Canada’s Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab (PEARL) has shocked many Canadians. Located at 80°N in the High Arctic on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, PEARL is the northernmost civilian research laboratory in the world. It is internationally recognized for ozone and climate research, and helped discover the first-ever Arctic ozone hole in 2011. PEARL is a Canadian success story that one U.S. government scientist deemed a “national treasure.” Now, many are left wondering why the Canadian government decided to bury that treasure.

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Ottawa squanders Canada’s research advantage in environmental studies

Promised funding has never materialized.

On March 31, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences will close its doors for good. The foundation has supported university-based research into Arctic climate and ozone depletion, air quality, severe weather and our oceans for more than a decade. Established by the Chrétien Liberals, support for the foundation was discontinued when the Harper Conservatives formed government in 2006. The foundation ceased funding research in 2011 and in the past few weeks all of its employees have been given termination notices.

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Hidden cost of cuts to Environment Canada

There are very real consequences when the environment is not properly watched.

It has been announced that 776 positions will be eliminated at Environment Canada. Senior scientists and their support staff will be reassigned to other government jobs, resulting in the outright cancellation or downsizing of programs such as ozone research, aircraft-based measurements, solar radiation monitoring, climate adaptation, air toxics research, and air quality research and monitoring. Given these economically difficult times, one might consider environmental monitoring to be a luxury, rather than a necessity. Evidence shows, however, that there are very real consequences when the environment is not properly watched.

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