1st Session, 41st Parliament – June 28, 2012

Senator Cowan:

“I spoke at length last week about the Experimental Lakes Area research centre that the Harper government is shutting down with Bill C-38. The government is encouraging ever faster and bigger development of the oil sands but is at the same time shutting down any source of scientific information about the impact of what we are doing to our environment and fresh water.

That is because facts can lead to someone questioning the government, and this government does not like questions.

Since I spoke, Canadians have learned a little more about how the Harper government is muzzling the scientists affected by the shutdown. Michael Harris wrote a revealing article about this and the Experimental Lakes Area shutdown in yesterday’s iPolitics. This is what he wrote:

All employees were explicitly warned not to speak to the media. Instead, media requests had to be forwarded to what was risibly referred to as DFO Communications. That is the branch plant of the Ministry of Truth in the PMO that casts the appropriate lights and shadows over the facts for the government and still manages to sleep well at night. You know, the Ignorance is Strength/Freedom is Slavery crowd.

How far has the government been prepared to go to smother the facts surrounding the ELA? For starters, DFO declined all requests from the media to speak with scientists.

Being an equal lack-of-opportunity employer, DFO also turned down all requests from its scientists to speak about their work to Canadians. Remember, these are the same people who sent “minders” with scientists to a recent scientific conference in Montreal, lest they stray from the government line in public. I am beginning to suspect that the government line is based on believing that 10,000 years ago Brontosaurs were cropping grass in the back forty.

You will be comforted to know that DFO extended the ban on ELA information to federal MPs. The department turned down NDP MP Bruce Hyer’s request to visit ELA with an ELA scientist. When an outraged university scientist conducting research there offered to take Hyer on a tour of the facility, DFO threatened to cancel his research privileges. Any wonder that acclaimed international scientist Ragnar Elmgren said that this was the kind of thing you would expect from the Taliban, not the government of a western democracy?

Policy without evidence, science shut down, scientists fired by the dozens — according to yesterday’s news, perhaps by the hundreds — and those remaining with the federal government are muzzled. Who would have imagined that Canada would come to this?

Last Friday, Canadians learned that four former senior public servants in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans took the highly unusual step of writing to Prime Minister Harper asking him to reconsider the decision to withdraw funding from the Experimental Lakes Area. The four men, Burton Ayles, who was regional director-general from 1993 to 1995, Herbert Lawler, who was the regional director-general from 1973 to 1986, Paul Sutherland, who was regional director-general from 1986 to 1993, and Rick Josephson, who was regional director of fisheries and habitat management from 1981 to 1989, wrote that they were “deeply disturbed” by the decision.

This is what they wrote to Prime Minister Harper:

We believe that you have been ill advised either by political staff with little understanding of federal constitutional responsibilities and with little appreciation of the importance of clean water and viable aquatic ecosystems to the well-being of all Canadians or by federal bureaucrats with a bias towards the management of marine fisheries . . .

Former public servants, former ministers from different political parties, provincial governments, scientists, leading international journals — the list of those saying this is wrong grows daily.

Policy based on evidence and science is a thing of the past, and the result is, as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said:

For what would be said of a generation that sought the stars, but permitted its lakes and streams to languish and die?

I hope that Mr. Mulroney took the opportunity to repeat this warning to Prime Minister Harper when he met with him in secret earlier this month. If Mr. Harper was seeking advice on how to gain political traction in the province of Quebec from Mr. Mulroney, as was widely reported in the press, I expect that he was told that Mr. Harper’s utter lack of respect for our natural environment was fast becoming a major public relations problem for him and his party in Quebec.

Honourable senators, last week I asked about the fiscal judgment of this government in closing the Experimental Lakes Area for a supposed savings of $2 million a year. I pointed out that estimates to remediate the lake run as high as $50 million.

I am, of course, not the only person to note the incongruity of certain so-called cost-saving measures in this budget. This bill is littered with them.

As I noted last week, Bill C-38 will close the office of the Inspector General of CSIS, leaving the Security Intelligence Review Committee as the only check on the spy agency’s activities.

A letter appeared in The Globe and Mail on Tuesday from Paul Cavalluzzo, a highly respected Toronto lawyer who served as lead commission counsel to the O’Connor commission in the case of Maher Arar. This is what Mr. Cavalluzzo wrote:

The cost of protecting Prime Minister Stephen Harper will double this year to $20-million from 2006, when he took office. . . .

This huge increase occurs at the same time that Mr. Harper has eliminated the office of CSIS’s watchdog, the inspector-general, because of the cost — $1-million annually. Perhaps Mr. Harper could spare some loose change from his protection budget and reinstate the inspector-general so Canadians’ civil liberties might be adequately protected from our security services.

He concluded by saying:

I guess smaller government lies in the eye of the beholder.

We have a Prime Minister who insists on doubling to $20 million the government expenditure on his personal security detail, while shutting down the office of the Inspector General of CSIS, who provides security for all Canadians from an intrusive government, at a cost of $1 million a year. That cost for the security of all Canadians is much too high to continue, according to Mr. Harper.

That is what becomes of the inspector general — gone, to join the world-renowned research centre at the Experimental Lakes Area, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy — the list just keeps growing.

What are this Prime Minister’s priorities? “Après moi, le deluge” — but honourable senators, this Prime Minister will leave all Canadians ill-equipped to deal with the deluge and destruction he is leaving in his wake.

Of course, the social safety net that Canadians built up for just these kinds of difficult times is being eroded, cut away bit by bit. The Harper government does not believe in safety nets. It is survival of the fittest in Harperland.

Employment Insurance? It depends on what industry you work in, honourable senators. If you live in a region that has built up and depends on seasonal industries, you are out of luck. Pull on your boots and move somewhere else.

Old Age Security? Remember the left-wing slogan, “Make the rich pay”? The Harper slogan is, “Make the old work.”

Remember, honourable senators, what little the Parliamentary Budget Officer was able to discover from the government led him to conclude that the changes to the OAS are not required to make the program financially sustainable for the long term. He found the OAS program is just fine financially. However, that was not fine for the Prime Minister, because his government does not like social safety nets. They are not needed by the 1 per cent.

Honourable senators, I understand that sometimes there is need for austerity. I have many questions about how the Harper government put Canadians in this situation. There have been far too many instances of fiscal mismanagement since Mr. Harper took power, but I certainly understand that circumstances can require tightening one’s belt. However, let us be clear: That is not what Bill C-38 is about. As I elaborated last week, it is not really about jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

This bill is about systematically eliminating organizations that this government does not like. It is about eliminating checks on secret government activities. It is about cutting funding for the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams, the same teams sent to Elliot Lake to deal with the tragic shopping mall collapse. It is about undoing decades of environmental protection laws. It is about changing the law to allow polluters to pollute our lakes and rivers. It is about putting a chill on our charitable organizations, when there is an issue that they want to speak out on. It is about slowly and quietly unravelling our social safety net.

It is about power. It is taking power away from public view, away from independent boards, away from Parliament, and consolidating that power in the hands of the Prime Minister.

Of course, honourable senators, remember the process by which this mammoth bill has been relentlessly pushed through the other place and is being forced through this chamber, with repeated recourse to Mr. Harper’s favourite legislative tools to shut down debate: closure in the other place and time allocation here.

We have a bill that is fundamentally all about taking power into the hands of the few, and it is being done through an abuse of power. Meanwhile, the members of the Conservative caucus sit like so many Madame Defarges, knitting as the guillotine falls. They say that power corrupts. I dread to think what lies ahead.”

Senator Mitchell:

“…The fourth thing is that in this day and age, science is fundamentally important to the way that economies will evolve. With our base of a well-educated population, at least to this point, we could have some advantage in that regard. However, again, this government has taken a direct assault on science in many ways. They do not believe in the science of climate change — they absolutely do not believe it. That is indicative and colours, I think, their view of many other scientific initiatives, like the Experimental Lakes Area.

A leading scientist in Canada said that some countries have particle accelerators, which are pretty sophisticated; Canada has the Experimental Lakes Area — $2 million per year. Senator Cowan outlined clearly the advantages of that and the cost of shutting it down. There is an example of where science can make us leaders in the world, build jobs for highly educated people, help us to diminish the environmental impacts of major projects, and so on.

When I start to assess what this government is actually doing, I get no confidence whatsoever…”