The Conservative government has continued its war against public information by getting ready to drop the axe on Statistics Canada in the latest round of budget cuts.
As the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, nearly half of the roughly 5,000 people working at StatsCan have been warned that their jobs are at risk, suggesting deep cuts are in store.
The notices to staff that budget cuts could well affect their jobs is the second major blow to the organization in the last few years. Canadians may well remember that a Conservative minority government decided to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary one in 2010. The change sparked controversy among social scientists and policy planners who believed that the government was recklessly endangering information that was vital for the country.
Canada’s chief statistician even resigned over the change out of protest.
Its current statistician, Wayne Smith, says that not only is the organization facing reductions from the federal budget of about eight per cent, it is also having to deal with an “unprecedented” drop in revenue from other government departments that fund surveys.
As a result, Smith says that the department faces an “exceptional degree of financial uncertainty” in planning for the next fiscal year.
That fiscal uncertainty will translate into cuts to several of its 350 surveys that range from topics like crime rates and mental health to the country’s gross domestic product.
As the Globe reported last month, the cuts will likely affect the agency’s ability to introduce new surveys and update the existing ones.
Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said the cuts “will impact how and what Statistics Canada can deliver to departments, agencies and the people of Canada. It’s worrisome what will happen.”
Also worrisome is the fact that the Conservative government continues to muzzle Canadian scientists from talking to the media about their taxpayer-funded research.
During a meeting in Vancouver last month, the American Academy for Advancement of Science outlined what the Toronto Star called a disturbing trend, suggesting federal environmental scientists are being systematically barred from communicating their findings to the public.
Panelist Margaret Munro, a science writer for Postmedia News, said the government had issued a media protocol that has served to suppress scientific input on issues of public interest.
“The more controversial the story, the less likely you are to talk to the scientists,” she said. “They (government media relations staff) just stonewall. If they don’t like the question, you don’t get an answer.”
Also last month, the federal government significantly reduced federal environmental oversight of natural-resource developments by consolidating environmental assessments into three departments, eliminating reviews for small projects, and reportedly handing more regulatory responsibility to the provinces.
At the same time, they are considering ways to limit environmental groups from intervening in regulatory hearings for major projects such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline project. The proposed $5.5-billion pipeline would ship oilsands crude from northern Alberta to Kitimat for shipment by tankers to Asian markets.
The Tories have begun to deregulate, dismantle and effectively hobble the public’s ability to receive accurate scientific information as well as our ability to comment on large-scale corporate projects that have the potential to be environmentally damaging.
The Sun is not part of any environmental group, nor do we have statisticians or scientists within our employ. As part of Canada’s media, however, we find this kind of systematic attempt to damage our public institutions unethical, and unacceptable.
In the long run, all Canadians will be the sorrier.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 2, 2012