10 WAYS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS BREAKING ITS COMMITMENT TO CANADIANS
During what should be a week of celebration marking the twentieth anniversary of National Public Service Week (NPSW), public service professionals feel compelled to draw attention to a number of federal government initiatives which undercut their ability to serve the best interests of their fellow citizens.
Canadians from all walks of life, including internationally renowned experts, former Conservative Cabinet Ministers, and mayors of communities from coast to coast to coast are also opposing the dozens of measures contained in the 2012 Budget, in Bill C-38 (the 420-page omnibus Budget implementation Bill) and in numerous changes to policy, laws and regulations that will damage critical programs and services that they depend on.
Canada’s public service professionals have highlighted 10 ways by which this federal government will undermine the health, safety and prosperity of Canadians, their communities and their environment.
Unfortunately, these are only a few examples drawn from a much longer list of dangerous measures undertaken by the government, including changes to employment insurance and pensions, and cuts to a wide range of federal departments and programs.
1. INCREASED RISK: Meat inspection rules changed, food safety inspections and food labelling reduced.
Changes to food inspection will put Canadians at increased risk of food-borne illnesses. Meat Inspection Regulations will now allow the on-farm slaughter of livestock. Instead of independent government professionals at federal facilities who are fully trained for this task, the slaughter will be overseen by private veterinarians paid by the same farmer who may want to salvage an animal that has been found unfit for transport.
Along with a reduction in the number of federal inspectors, this measure puts our food supply at risk and could also damage international confidence in Canadian exports.
The federal government will also stop policing nutrition claims on food product labels and will no longer test of the efficacy of fertilizer products before they are released on the market.
2. ELIMINATED: The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a world-renowned freshwater and fisheries research facility
This region of 58 remote lakes has been dedicated, since the late 1960’s, to whole-lake ecosystem research. The ELA has produced groundbreaking studies into the effects of pollutants and acid rain freshwater ecosystems. The ELA is also where researchers are conducting a one-of-a-kind study of how freshwater ecosystems respond to climate change.
Scientists and experts around the world argue the ELA provides key information for objective, evidence-based decision-making and has been instrumental in the development of environmental policy and legislation, both here at home and internationally. The government’s decision to eliminate the ELA will result in the loss of an important training ground for the next generation of Canadian scientists.
3. MUZZLED: Independent expert advice on critical scientific and policy issues
The federal government is continuing down the path of silencing its own experts and ignoring policy advice on issues that impact Canadians directly. A policy of dramatically restricting government scientists’ freedom to communicate with the media and the public has drawn an international chorus of condemnation. Most recently, scientists attending the International Polar Year Conference in Montreal were shadowed by government “spin doctors”.
The government belatedly confirmed that the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) was being closed down because it produced research-based policy advice that it did not want to hear. Similarly, the National Council of Welfare was axed after 50 years of tracking issues related to poverty and contributing to the development of Canadian social policy.
There are many other examples where evidence-based policy making is being downgraded throughout the federal government. Evidence will be more difficult to gather as Statistics Canada is once again targeted for major cuts to staff and resources. Meanwhile, policy units in departments ranging from Health Canada to Environment Canada will be hit with substantial and sometimes fatal cuts.
4. SHUT: Labs responsible for the measurement of industrial emissions and climate monitoring.
The team of “smokestack” specialists at Environment Canada is being dismantled. These scientists play a key role working with enforcement officers and industry to crack down on toxic pollution. They measure cancer-causing emissions and provide support for the development of standards, the assessment of pollution sources, analysis of the effectiveness of pollution-reduction technologies, and maintaining an inventory of pollution from different sources.
5. SLASHED: Canada’s public science capacity and research into health, agriculture and the environment.
The tools, skills and expertise to conduct science and research to inform public policy across most departments of the federal government are being slashed. Five water pollution research labs that have played a major role in identifying destructive environmental pollutants, such as those harming beluga whales and the effects of phosphorus detergents on lakes, are on the hit list. The NRC’s Winnipeg-based Institute for Biodiagnostics working on second generation MRI technology is closing, as is the Cereal Research Centre run by Agriculture and Agrifood Canada in that city.
Canada’s much vaunted next generation satellite, the Radarsat Constellation, appears doomed, due to cuts to the Canadian Space Agency. At the same time the scientific work conducted within the Department of National Defence represents a significant share of cuts to that department. Casualties will include explosive detection, counter terrorism technology, robotics, and computer network security research.
6. CLOSED: Environmental emergency response and timely marine rescue on Canadian coasts.
The federal government will dramatically reduce its ability to respond rapidly to environmental emergencies and marine incidents. Emergency response teams which currently prepare for, and coordinate responses to, threats to the environment such as oil spills or other toxic leaks are being removed from Pacific and Atlantic coasts and from all other regions.
At a time when it promotes plans to drive major oil pipelines through valuable watersheds and to allow oil tanker traffic to spike through the pristine waters off the B.C. coast, the federal government is removing its first line of defence and crippling its ability to coordinate emergency responses.
Cuts to coastal environmental protection will be matched by cuts to marine rescue services. After reducing maritime search and rescue coordination in Atlantic Canada, the government will now shut down Coast Guard stations and communication centres on the West coast.
7. Undermined: Protection of fish habitat and regulations that safeguard Canada’s lakes, rivers and streams.
Bill C-38, the budget implementation legislation, includes changes to the Fisheries Act that will dramatically narrow protection for fish and fish habitat. As four former Fisheries Ministers have said, the changes will “take the guts of the Fisheries Act.” The Act will now only protect specific fish that are deemed to have direct value to a fishery. But because it eliminates protection for fish habitat, the new Act will inevitably put fish species and fisheries at risk. According to scientists, the majority of freshwater fish and up to 80% of the 71 freshwater species at risk of extinction would lose protection under these changes.
These changes follow on the heels of a number of recent decisions that will reduce the application of science to monitor and protect Canada’s aquatic environment. For example, high tech labs and teams tasked with monitoring of impact of widespread chemical use - e.g. PCBs, heavy metals, pesticides, organochlorines, and antibiotics – were shut down. And in December 2011, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced that it would be shifting from an annual to a “multi-year” (i.e. every three years) assessment of fish stocks.
A loud chorus of scientists and expert voices argue that these changes will introduce unprecedented levels of risk to the quality and sustainability of Canadian ecosystems, and will impact the future health of our environment and our economy.
8. CUT: Suicide prevention resources, mental health monitoring and injury prevention programs for the Canadian Forces. (*)
The government’s decision to withdraw from this area of work at a time when there is increasing awareness of mental health problems among our veterans returning from conflict is difficult to understand. PTSD, depression and suicide are serious issues for the Canadian Forces.
These cuts will deprive the Forces of their most knowledgeable experts on monitoring of PTSD disorder rates and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (concussion). DND’s capability to monitor the health of Canadian Forces members will be further crippled by the loss of close to half of the epidemiologists and researchers who analyzed mental health outcomes such as depression, PTSD, mental health services, and suicide.
Budget cuts will also end a successful injury surveillance and prevention trial program run out of CFB Valcartier.
9. ERASED: Programs and organizations that promote and safeguard our common heritage.
Budget cuts will cripple Canadian’s access to their history, and their ability to tell and hear stories about themselves and their communities to each other and to the rest of the world.
Major cuts to staff and resources at Library and Archives Canada will have devastating consequences on the preservation of Canada’s history. Meanwhile, the shutdown of the National Archives Development Program (NADP) will sound the death knell for dozens of local archival collections painstakingly put together and maintained by volunteers in communities across this country.
The CBC, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board will all lose 10% of their budgets. A large proportion of the NFB’s catalogue will no longer be accessible to the public with the closing of screening facilities in Toronto and Montreal. Telefilm Canada and the CBC will have far less capacity to support Canadian productions and the national broadcaster will further reduce its news gathering and reporting activities.
10. WEAKENED: Environmental assessment scaled back to facilitate hasty resource development.
Legislation resulting from the 2012 budget includes 170 pages of amendments to the environmental assessment process. These changes will significantly shorten the timeframe for these assessments and give politicians more discretion in determining what will be assessed, and how. There will be fewer assessments, involving fewer experts and stakeholders, over a shorter time span and with the commitment of less resources. And if Ministers don’t like the results, they can overrule them.
The federal government is literally gambling with the natural environment that Canadians all depend on – lowering the bar for the approval of projects while at the same time implementing major cuts to the scientific expertise and emergency response capacity of departments like Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
One project alone, the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, crosses mountain ranges, hundreds of waterways and dozens of First Nation communities. Improper environmental assessment of a project of this magnitude would be disastrous. Any short term economic gain could be overwhelmed by damage that would impact current and future generations.
(*) After extensive media coverage and public pressure, the cuts to mental health monitoring were partially reversed.
Publish Date: 15-JUN-2012 03:35 PM
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