In a very unusual move, thousands of Canadian scientists took to Ottawa's streets last week, marching in white lab coats to protest Prime Minister Harper's extreme anti-science and anti-environmental agenda which is decimating the country's environmental laws, environmental protection and related research ... all to make it easy for Canada to fully exploit its tar sands oil.
It looked like a sea of white coats marching up Parliament Hill with scientists carrying tombstones and a coffin symbolizing the "death of evidence," and chanting: "What do we want? SCIENCE! When do we want it? After peer review!"
The straw that broke the camel's back is the government's decision to close the iconic Experimental Lakes Area in 2013. The government claims it can no longer afford the $2 million program.
Best known for its pivotal research on acid rain, ELA is known worldwide for its long term ecosystem-wide research, particularly on the effects of water pollution. It's been operating since the 1960s in a remote complex of 58 lakes.
Perhaps it's a coincidence that just when Canadian water resources are imperiled by current and proposed mining and tar sands industries, research on its impacts will be shut down.
"It is completely shocking," says Jim Elser, an aquatic ecologist at Arizona State University in Tempe, who ran experiments at the site in the 1990s. "It is sort of like the US government shutting down Los Alamos - its most important nuclear-physics site - or taking the world's best telescope and turning it off," he told Nature.
Nature also points out that while Obama has promoted new guidelines that promote openness between scientists and the media, Canada has gone in the opposite direction. Scientists are also protesting Harper's clamp down on what they can say to the media.
"Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party won power in 2006, there has been a gradual tightening of media protocols for federal scientists and government workers. Researchers who once would have felt comfortable responding freely and promptly to journalists are now required to direct inquiries to a media-relations office, which demands written questions in advance, and might not permit scientists to speak."
In the process, some of Canada's most well-respected scientists have been fired.
Canada's Big Bill
Canada's massive budget Bill C-38 passed easily in late June because conservatives took the majority in 2011 elections - the first time in 23 years.
It undemocratically weakens or removes many of Canada's most important environmental protections without public input and contains crucial provisions that silence non-profits and scientists.
It systematically dismantles environmental programs viewed as potentially hostile to pipeline development that serve the country's tar sands oil resources. It rewrites Canada's Environmental Assessment Act, weakens environmental reviews, abandons implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, shortens the list of protected species, among many others.
Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, told The Guardian:
"It's not about saving money. It's about imposing ideology. "What's happening here is that the government has an ideological agenda to develop the Canadian economy based on the extraction of oil out of the Alberta tar sands as quickly as possible and sell it as fast as it can, come hell and high water, and eliminate any barriers that stand in their way."
Besides tar sands crude, Canada is also getting into natural gas fracking in a big way.
Here are some of the specific ways that C-38 undermines research and the environment:
- It kills the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, composed of industry leaders, environmentalists, First Nations representatives and policy makers who provided non-partisan research and advice on federal policies.
- It cuts the Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, Canada's only national program for measuring water consumption habits.
- It dismantles the ocean contaminant program
- It slashes funds for Environment Canada's Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, which collects information about effluent discharge, including from mines and pulp mills.
Before the bill was pushed through, more than 500 environmental groups blacked-out their websites in protest.