In praise of science and reason
By Miranda Holmes
I’ve never been a member of a political party, although I did consider joining the NDP earlier this year, just so I could vote for Nathan Cullen in the leadership contest. Now I’m considering joining the Liberals, just so I can vote for Joyce Murray.
In the rarified air of Parliament Hill, where so many Opposition MPs seem to exist in an alternative reality, these two brave souls have pointed out what any sane Canadian can already see: if we want to escape from Harperland and return to something resembling the Canada most of us know and love, the NDP, the Liberals and the Greens are going to have to co-operate and run candidates strategically in the next federal election.
It is (perhaps) interesting that both these MPs are from the invisible province of British Columbia. I say “invisible” because, in the current debate about the East/West divide, it seems to have escaped the notice of many eastern commentators that there is an entire province to the west of Alberta which, by and large, does not share its eastern neighbour’s rapacious, laissez faire attitude towards the environment.
I can remember a time when American backpackers wore Canadian flag pins to make their appearance in many countries less unwelcome. Other than Israel (where our Foreign Minister’s shamefully vitriolic rejection of the Palestinian people’s statehood aspirations were very welcome indeed), I’m not sure how helpful a maple leaf is these days.
I hate feeling embarrassed about being a Canadian. And on an almost daily basis the number of reasons for embarrassment grows. No sooner had the Harper Tories rejected efforts to supply cheaper generic drugs to desperate countries, then our International Co-operation Minister was boasting about how useful the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) can and should be to Canadian mining companies and other corporations. (Anyone wondering why this is a very bad idea should read Samantha Nutt’s excellent book Damned Nations.)
If I had to pick one reason – and it isn’t easy – it would be the Harper government’s flagrant disdain for science (which, for the Prime Minister and his oil sands cronies, really is an inconvenient truth).
Denying the existence and dire consequences of man-made climate change would almost be less embarrassing than paying lip service to both, then tossing its Kyoto Protocol obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions out the window, as this government has done. Then there’s the embarrassment of watching the Harper contingent swanning around last month’s climate change negotiations in Doha attempting to stymie any meaningful action by others. When pundits conclude that Canada could learn from the U.S. on emissions reduction, you know you’re in serious trouble.
Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, following a limited debate, the number of rivers and lakes protected by the Navigable Waters Act was reduced this month from more than 2.5 million to 159.
Protection of Canada’s ocean ecosystems had already been tossed out the window with the decision by the Harper government that the primary remit of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans should be boosting fish farms. This “trade uber alles” mandate was threatened last year when the Cohen inquiry heard from Fred Kibenge of the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island that Infectious Salmon Anaemia virus had been found in samples of BC salmon. Kibenge predicted that he would be attacked by the government and he was right.
Unfortunately, attacking independent scientists, gagging or simply firing vexatious government scientists and gutting existing environmental legislation is not enough for this government. As Dr. Darryl Luscombe warns in a recent Watershed Sentinel article, a primary goal of the controversial Bill C-38 is to curb the participation of an informed public in environmental reviews of contentious projects.
Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “To be scientifically literate is to empower yourself to know when someone else is full of bullshit.” Sadly, scientific literacy does not help when your government legislates against it.
And so I appeal to the Liberals and the NDP and the Bloc and the Greens: For the sake of Archimedes and Galileo and Darwin (and all of Canada’s dedicated and currently harassed government and independent scientists), please put partisanship aside and bring back informed, civilized debate.
Miranda Holmes is an associate editor of Watershed Sentinel magazine. For more details on the Harper government’s attacks on science go to www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/bill-c-38-its-deadly-affects-environment .