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Harper Government Cuts to Science Overwhelmingly Detrimental and Out of Sync with Public’s Priorities, Say Surveys

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The Big Chill

Canadians hoping to gauge the hazards of the Harper government’s ongoing budget cuts need look no further than the impact of the cuts on government science, concludes a new report by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) titled Vanishing Science, based on recent, separate surveys of federal government scientists and the public.

According to newly released data from a survey conducted by Environics Research, over 9 out of 10 federal government scientists (91%) believe cuts to federal science budgets – most of which take effect over the next few years – will have a detrimental impact on the federal government’s ability to serve the public. (Over half – 51% – already believe the impact to be very detrimental.) Moreover, the cuts are strangely at odds with the science priorities of the overwhelming majority of Canadians. A recent poll of Canadians, also conducted by Environics, reveals that nearly three-quarters (73%) believe public health, safety and protection of the environment should be the government’s top science priorities – some of the very areas that have come in for the severest cuts.

The report also reveals:

  • a significant majority of Environment Canada scientists (69%) believe Canada is doing a worse job of environmental protection than 5 years ago,
  • nearly 9 out of 10 scientists (86%) at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans believe recent changes to the Fisheries Act will hamper Canada’s ability to protect fish and fish habitat, and
  • 8 out of 10 scientists (80%) at the National Research Council believe Canada has done a worse job over the past 5 years of advancing our international standing in technology and innovation, an area the Harper government has particularly touted as important to the economy and that includes so-called  basic research  – which the government has all but defunded.

“The Harper government’s efforts to balance the federal budget in time for the 2015 election is being built on deep, unpopular cuts to public science that put at risk Canadians’ health, safety and the environment,” said PIPSC President Debi Daviau. “These are not cuts to ‘back office operations,’ as the Finance Minister described them in 2012 – not unless by ‘back office’ he means Canada’s natural environment, air and water quality, the survival of other species, and the health and safety of all Canadians.”

Invitations to participate in the online survey of federal scientists, hosted by Environics Research, were sent to 15,398 PIPSC members – scientists, researchers and engineers – engaged in scientific work in over 40 federal departments and agencies. Of these, 4,069 (26%) responded between June 5 and 19, 2013. The survey is considered accurate + or – 1.6%, 19 times out of 20. A shorter public opinion survey was conducted by Environics of 1,003 Canadians between November 14 and 20, 2013. The results are considered accurate + or – 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

Download the full report.