I finally got around to listening to Science for the People’s Canadian election panel. It’s telling that for all her effort to provide balance, Desiree Schell couldn’t track down a single scientist who thought the current Canadian government was doing great.
But it also provided some nuance to the situation, too. One panelist mentions that we don’t have any strong pro-science organizations up here, so our governments have been indifferent about it. Previous Liberal governments would muzzle government scientists, but primarily on politically-sensitive topics like climate change and the default was still freedom. In contrast, one of the panelists mentioned he was disciplined for discussing basic facts about sharks that swim in American waters, without first clearing it with his government handlers. So the current Conservatives are more an acceleration of existing trends than something entirely new.
But those trends… oy. We’re currently somewhere around 20th place for investment in science relative to GDP, and we’re the only country trending downwards. Worse, though, was when one of the panelists happened to wind up next to a sitting politician. They were quite aware of the issues, and game to change things for the better… but they pointed out that the damage done was irreversible. The cuts to basic science were so deep, that when combined with the tax cuts the Conservatives put in place, it makes it impossible for the next government to restore the pre-Harper status quo. Another panelist pointed out that it’s cheaper to maintain a scientific program than start it up again; people are the core part of a said program, and when you cut the program the people find jobs elsewhere and don’t come back; plus the Conservatives have been destroying knowledge by slashing government libraries, and that loss is permanent.
In sum, the Conservatives have set us back a generation in the scientific realm.
Fortunately, Canadians are waking up to this; though politicians are reluctant to discuss the topic, as they know how screwed we are, the public view it as a major issue. It’s time to build up those pro-science organizations, and start repairing the damage the Conservatives have done.