Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Photo: Geoff Robins / AFP

By Julia Belluz
9 November 2015

(Vox) – Over the past nine years, Canada has been a pretty dreary place for scientists.

Under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, the country made headlines for restricting communications by federal scientists, shutting down important research stations, phasing out the role of federal science adviser, and generally ignoring evidence in policymaking. As a New York Times editorial about Harper's Canada put it: "[This] war against science has been even more damaging to the capacity of Canadians to know what their government is doing."

In fact, the state of affairs was so bad, researchers took to the streets in protest, hundreds of scientists from around the world wrote letters to Harper begging for change, and science was propelled into a pretty major election issue this October.

But there's evidence that under a new government, the war on science is finally over. In the weeks since Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, won a Liberal majority, he's already made some major reforms.

1) Scientists can now talk in public

Under Stephen Harper, journalists who requested information or interviews from federal scientists or health policy officials could expect long delays, refusals, or replies — often after a deadline — that didn't answer your questions at all.

This was a response to a mandate from the prime minister's office: Scientists working for the federal government (as well as anyone working for a public health agency) had to seek approval before speaking to the media.

The results were disastrous. Researchers were essentially silenced. It was hard to know what was going on with health care decision-making As a Maclean's magazine story on the Harper government's "Orwellian" approach stated, "Ottawa’s obsession with controlling the message has become so all-encompassing that it now threatens both the health of Canada’s democracy and the country’s reputation abroad."

An example: I once asked the Public Health Agency of Canada for information about the government's use of evidence in stockpiling the flu antiviral Tamiflu. The responses I got were so convoluted and took so much time, I decided to put in an official Access to Information request for all the notes and correspondence related to my earlier media queries. I learned that my measly request — deemed "medium impact" by the government — generated at least 195 pages' worth of internal work, and that didn't include all the redacted files I couldn't see.

Now Trudeau is unmuzzling researchers once again. On Friday, the new science and innovation minister, Navdeep Bains, said federal scientists would now be free to talk to the press, according to the Toronto Star.

"Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect. That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public," he said in a statement. "We are working to make government science fully available to the public and will ensure that scientific analyses are considered in decision making."

This is a major reform. It means that all the important information researchers gather can finally be communicated to the public again. It means more transparency in government. It means an end to the demoralization of Canadian researchers. And it means fewer headaches for journalists who are trying to do their job. [more]

Canada is finally ending its war on science

Hunter Tootoo, minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard speaks with Catherine McKenna, minister of the Environment and Climate Change as they wait for a group photo in Ottawa, 4 November 2015. Photo: Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS

By Joanna Smith
4 November 2015

OTTAWA (The Star) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent another strong signal that he wants to restore the reputation of Canada when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by appointing a minister of environment and climate change.

“Canadians expect their government to be responsible around climate change and addressing the impacts to the environment that we are facing around the world right now,” Trudeau told reporters Wednesday after he and his cabinet were sworn in at Rideau Hall.

That was in response to a question based on some of the criticism the Liberal government is already facing for not having committed to a clear national target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions — or any federal plan on how to implement it — ahead of the United Nations climate change conference being held in Paris Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Trudeau is bringing the provincial premiers, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, with him to the summit and has committed to holding a First Ministers meeting within 90 days to hammer out a framework, which would include allowing provinces to continue with their own carbon-pricing plans.

“Canada is going to be a strong and positive actor on the world stage, including in Paris at COP 21. That’s why we have a very strong minister, not just of the environment, but minister of the environment and climate change who will be at the heart of this discussion,” Trudeau said.

That newly appointed minister is Hamilton-born human rights lawyer Catherine McKenna, 44, who defeated popular New Democratic MP Paul Dewar to represent the riding of Ottawa Centre in the Oct. 19 election. [more]

Trudeau sends signal with appointment of Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna



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