Cuts to federal science and research programs – backgrounder
The federal government is in the midst of implementing big cuts to scientific research as part of the across-the-board cuts to public services announced in the 2012 budget.
More than $13 million in cuts to Environment Canada in 2012-13 will slash research and monitoring programs, eliminating federal environmental reviews for major resource extraction projects. The National Research Council recently told staff that it will wind down research operations in Winnipeg and Calgary, laying off staff by the end summer. Health Canada plans to cut more than $100 million in this year alone, decimating the research capacity of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and other key policy areas.
Simply put, public research is under attack.
Federal labs – important research at risk: Fallout from Budget 2012
Since the announcement of the Federal Budget 2012 two weeks ago, the government has quietly shut down several labs and research centres across Canada. This will have a profound impact on the health and well being of Canadians. The research done in these federal labs is groundbreaking and protects human health and the environment.
- Cuts at the National Research Council laboratories in Winnipeg were announced in April 2012. Forty-seven scientists and researchers were laid off and will lose their jobs as of July 2012. The centre employees 200 scientists, students and collaborators in Winnipeg, Halifax and Calgary. This facility researches medical devices to diagnose conditions such as cancer and stroke.The federal government will be closing the research center and restructuring the agency.
- The federal government is closing the Food inspection labs in St. John's that are managed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, with 14 jobs being cut. This lab is responsible for sampling seafood. Food will now be shipped to a lab in Dartmouth, N.S. This will impact Canadians’ safety, as seafood has a shelf life of 48 hours, and so samples may not always make it to Nova Scotia in time. Closing the lab is part of the Harper government's decision to cut the CFIA by $56 million over the next three years.
- The Centre for Plant Health on Vancouver Island is moving to a research station in the Okanagan. This plant researches sustainable practices to reduce pesticides. This is a major concern because studies in plant breeding can take decades and need continuous support.
- The Cereal Research Centre under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada focuses on wheat and oat breeding, as well as improving cereal quality and resistance to disease and insects. In April 2012, the federal government announced it will be closing this facility, as part of its cuts across the public service. It will close in April 2014 and most scientists will be relocated. Approximately 230 people work at the centre, including 30 scientists.
These cuts are in addition to the threats to other important government labs:
- The Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg is home to the National Microbiology Lab (the only Level 4 laboratory in Canada and one of just 15 such laboratories in the world), the Public Health Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (NCFAD), making it one of the only centres in the world to study both human and animal diseases in tandem. The centre was instrumental in detecting the Avian flu outbreaks of 2004, 2005 and 2009 as well as innumerable lesser known types of flu. Laboratory technicians at the centre work under highly rigorous standards of containment and exposure. Their work contributes to the mass production of influenza vaccines and ensuring that Canadian farm animals and other products for consumption and export meet the highest standards.
- Research at the Horticulture Research and Development Centre in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (one of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s 19 research centres) has succeeded in reducing and improving the use of pesticides on fruits and vegetables by, among other things, developing biofungicides and non-chemical methods of maintaining and increasing food quality during storage.
- Cutting-edge research into more environmentally responsible and commercially cost-efficient growing practices is also undertaken by PSAC members in the Plant Pathology Program at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, B.C. Over the past 15 years, staff there has pioneered faster methods of detecting plant diseases and safer, more effective methods of treating them – including a new treatment for plant mildew using Palmolive soap and a soon-to-be commercialized fumigation process for berries that uses vinegar rather than harsh chemical sprays.
- The Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Toronto is one of six Canadian Forest Centres in the country. It has pioneered the development of TreeAzin, an effective, biologically safe pesticide, to control the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has decimated ash trees in North America.
- Continuous water monitoring by technical staff in federal labs has resulted in 40 years of data on water quality downstream from the Alberta tar sands – work that, along with water quality studies in the Red River Valley, federal parks and regions across the country, contributes to Canada’s critical assessment of the impacts of climate change on the environment, agriculture, drinking water, recreation, human health and the economy.
- The National Water Research Institute in Burlington, Ontario is Canada’s largest freshwater research facility. Together with various environmental testing laboratories across the country, the institute monitors water quality and generates the scientific data and analysis required to maintain Canada’s freshwater ecosystems and ensure fresh, clean water for Canadians and Canadian wildlife.
- The Canadian Institutes for Health Research are responsible for innovations including a vaccine that prevents Alzheimer's disease in mice, potential vaccines for the SARS genome, stem cells that effectively cure diabetes in mice and a vaccine that treats E. coli in cattle.
The cuts started long before the 2012 budget
The deep cuts that are currently being implemented as part of the 2012 Federal Budget continue a trend that has seen the erosion of public research.
The federal government announced in the 2007 budget that it would be closing federal labs and transferring responsibility for public science to universities and other private institutions. Due to cuts in government funding, many universities are more reliant on private sector money. This puts public science at risk.
The National Research Council had its funding cut by $35 million in 2009. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council also saw their budgets slashed by $113 million over three years. A large percentage of scientists and academics working in Canada rely these agencies to fund their research.
Four hundred jobs were affected at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in December 2011. This will have direct impact on the monitoring of fish stocks. Quotas for individual species will be established every 3-5 years, instead of once a year. This will effectively download the cost of and responsibility for fish monitoring to industry.
In August 2011, Environment Canada cut 700 jobs. This included meteorologists, scientists, chemists and engineers. Earlier that summer, 50 contract scientists were cut, many of whom worked on climate change research. In April 2012, an additional 137 PSAC members were given notice that their jobs could be eliminated.
In September 2011, it was revealed that Environment Canada would be cutting a monitoring network that is key to protecting Earth’s ozone layer. Researchers from around the world and the influential British journal Nature expressed dismay, saying the decision threatens international monitoring programs and Canada’s reputation.
In October 2011, the Canadian Environmental Network was forced to close its doors, after Environment Canada cut its funding. For 34 years, network acted as a link between 640 small environmental groups across the country and the federal government.
Muzzling scientists and their research:
The Harper government has used its obsession with message control to muzzle government scientists and prevent Canadians from learning about the research that their tax dollars fund.
- Climate scientists are being prevented from presenting their research at conferences or from speaking with the media.
- Scientific reports that are meant for public release are routinely being posted on government websites on Friday afternoons with no fanfare – effectively burying this important information.
- All federal scientists must get pre-approval from their minister’s office before they can speak to the media. This means a time-consuming process of drafting questions and answers, often with multiple people involved. This message manipulation can take a week or more – too late to meet any journalist’s deadline.
- In 2010, Scott Dalimore, a scientist for Natural Resources Canada, was prevented from publicly discussing his research published in Nature magazine about a pre-historic flood that occurred at the end of the last ice age. Research about an occurrence 13,000 years ago should hardly be considered controversial!
- More recently, Dr. Kristina M. Miller, the head of a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was ordered by the federal government not to publicly discuss her research.
Time for a Third Choice:
Science policy in Canada is at a crossroads. This government is forcing Canadians to chose between having a strong economy and having strong public services such as those mentioned above. Canadians shouldn’t have to choose between these two options, they want and need both. While few would deny the importance and the benefits of investments in public research, a waning federal commitment to basic research along with attempts to steer funding toward politically targeted priority areas or to projects with possible commercial outcomes threatens to weaken our scientific progress.
A renewed commitment to independent academic research and government science is particularly important for Canada. When compared with other OECD countries, Canada depends much more on the public sector to perform research. Canadian businesses account for just 54 per cent of all the research conducted in the country, compared to the OECD average of nearly 70 percent. By contrast, universities, colleges and government conduct about 46 per cent of all research, well above the OECD average of 28 per cent.
Canadians need a new science policy that puts the public interest first and builds upon the proven strengths of government and independent higher education-based research.
The three pillars underlying a new approach should be based on the following:
- renewing investments in basic research guided by priorities set by the scientific community;
- ensuring the integrity and independence of university and college research; and,
- increasing support for government science.
Canada needs to invest in science and research, now more than ever.
Date Modified : 2012/04/22