The Truth About Environment Canada’s “Thousands of Interviews”

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel has repeatedly misled the public and Parliament about the muzzling of federal scientists.

I have uncovered more evidence that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s MPs are misleading the public and Parliament about muzzled federal scientists. I have already written about (former) Environment Minister Peter Kent’s false statements. Here, I examine claims by Calgary MP Michelle Rempel.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel defends the muzzling of federal scientists. Source: CBC.
Calgary MP Michelle Rempel defends the muzzling of federal scientists. Source: CBC.

Rempel is Harper’s point person for defending his government’s muzzling program. She has repeatedly said that Environment Canada (EC) scientists conduct “thousands” of interviews with the media. Scott Findlay has already pointed out that this defence is specious. But documents show it is even worse than that.

What did Rempel say?

Question Period, 17 Feb. 2012: “We are so proud of our team of scientists at Environment Canada and the work that they do. In fact, last year I believe they conducted over 1,000 interviews with the media.”

Power and Politics, 1 April 2013: “Our scientists have access to media… The stat for (Environment Canada) for media interviews alone was over a thousand in a year.”

26 May 2015, debate on muzzled scientists in Parliament:1 “Let us go through how researchers communicate with each other… Government of Canada scientists publish more than 4,000 peer-reviewed journals per year. We also conducted thousands of media interviews just in Environment Canada.”

Notice that Rempel has made the same claim in at least three of the past four years.

Were there “over 1,000 interviews” by EC scientists in 2011? Well, no. Here is what released briefing notes for EC Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) Karen Dodds say:

How many interviews have been conducted by EC scientists in 2011?

Specifically relating to science, we have received over 650 media requests. Of those calls, 272 requested interviews and 248 were granted.

Other numbers (but with about 30% more interviews) were provided (pg. 100) in briefing notes to EC ADM David Grimes. EC Deputy Minister Paul Boothe gave these same numbers in a letter to Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal, iPolitics and Toronto Star (pg. 194).

So why would Rempel claim such a thing? Environment Canada had this to say in the ATIP:

EC: Since January 2011, our meteorologists have conducted over 2,200 interviews.

So, Rempel is almost certainly talking about operational weather forecasters and not research scientists. Surely she understands the difference. It would also be surprising if nobody advised her when she was Environment Secretary that the numbers she was claiming in public and Parliament were false. All of her top administrators at EC knew.

In her defence of muzzling, Rempel has frequently intoned that she knows better than others about science communications because she worked for a decade in academic administration (e.g., see here and here). She has even taken this line on twitter with concerned members of the public:

@SteveRickettsSP @stphnmaher yes, and I worked in academic research and IP management for 10+ years.

Indeed, Rempel should know better, and has misled Canadians about the muzzling of federal scientists. The evidence for muzzling is unequivocal. Rempel has been disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst.

  1. The reporter in this piece suggested that the federal government is trying to muzzle me. That is incorrect. The government has been muzzling federal scientists. Academic freedom permits me and other university researchers to speak freely.