The Issue:Securing Scientific Integrity
We believe that ensuring evidence-based public policy now and in the future can only be truly achieved through collective agreement provisions that guarantee scientific integrity, including:
- the right of federal scientists (with few exceptions) to speak independent of their role as government scientists, and
- more opportunities to share scientific findings with other colleagues, especially through attendance at national and international conferences.
Restoration of science in the federal government requires significant reinvestment in both staff and programs, and the appointment of a Chief Science Officer who, among other things, will be a strong advocate for scientific integrity within the public service. The government deserves kudos for already repairing some of the damage inflicted on public science, but much remains to be done to restore the federal role in effectively promoting both regulation and innovation. We believe our scientific integrity initiatives are necessary to both realize and reinforce the government’s ongoing commitment to evidence-based public policy.
- PIPSC represents over 15,000 federal scientists, engineers and researchers in approximately 40 science-based departments and agencies (SBDAs) across the country, including:
- Doctors, nurses, psychologists, veterinarians, physicists, biologists, botanists, agrologists, agronomists, and
- Experts in everything from rail safety, vaccines, climate change, air pollution and water quality to fish, food, farming, fossil fuels, and nuclear energy.
- According to at least one pollster (Angus Reid 1), Canadians ranked the muzzling of federal scientists and pulling out of the Kyoto Accord as the two greatest failures of the previous Harper government.
- According to a 2013 Environics Research survey of federal scientists:2
- Nine out of 10 federal scientists (90%) did not feel that they could speak freely to the media about the work they do.
- Faced with a departmental decision or action that could harm public health, safety or the environment, nearly as many (86%) did not believe they could share their concerns with the public or media without censure or retaliation from their department.
- Over one-third (37%) reported they were prevented from responding to questions from the public and media by public relations staff or management over the past five years.
- Significantly, nearly one-quarter (24%) reported being directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons.
- Only 36% said they had been approved to attend conferences, and less than one-quarter (24%) felt the approval process for attending conferences, courses and other events is fair, transparent and performed on a timely basis.
- While one of the new Liberal government’s first acts was to declare federal scientists once more free to speak to the media and public about their research, no new communications policies exist to clarify or codify this freedom and no complaint process exists within the public service allowing scientists to object to instances when this freedom is impinged or obstructed in the future.
- Federal government science has experienced a dramatic decline not only in funding but in staffing in recent years. The Trudeau government is to be congratulated on its announcement that it will hire 135 new scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. However, many other science-based departments continue to suffer from previously announced cuts to staff.
For example, 3
- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) lost 1,407 full-time staff positions (20% of its workforce) between 2012 and 2016. (More than 50% of the positions cut were from programs that mitigate risks to human health.)
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) shed 1,764 jobs between 2011 and 2015.
- According to its most recent Plans and Priorities, Environment Canada will have cut 21% of its staff over the same period, including 338 employees from the climate change division.
- As of spring 2015, at least 1,116 jobs had been cut from Health Canada, and a further 349 from Natural Resources Canada.4
- The National Research Council of Canada, which underwent a dramatic change of mandate under the Harper government – starving it of needed funds for basic research and aligning its activities more closely with industry – has had over 800 positions cut since 2008.5
- Our members make vital contributions to Canada and Canadians every day. They:
- Inspect and approve the food we eat, the toys and products we use and the vaccines and medications we depend on.
- Issue weather forecasts and storm warnings, ensure transportation safety and respond to critical emergencies that threaten lives and the environment.
- Contribute to solutions to global problems such as climate change, pandemics, sustainable development and feeding a hungry planet.
- Lead world-renowned discoveries, including the first examples of computer animation, the cardiac pacemaker, medical isotopes, and anti-counterfeit hologram technology, which have spurred Canada’s innovative capacity and economic growth.
- We recognize that organizations as large and diverse as the federal public service take time to change. Our members are committed and anxious to help the government ensure the “real change” that the Prime Minister outlined in mandate letters to Ministers. But the public service also requires rebuilding after nearly 10 years of Harper government muzzling and cuts. This requires both new investment in vital program areas and advocacy to ensure scientists are indeed free to speak. This advocacy can and should be provided by a new Chief Science Officer but, equally important, by individual MPs.
- Both our members and Canadians need clarity about the right of scientists to speak freely to the media and the public about their work. New communications policies should reflect this freedom, and collective agreements should enshrine the right to speak so that a clear complaint process is established. No government should be allowed to silence science again.
- This right – and Canada’s international leadership on science – can be further enhanced by ensuring more federal government scientists can collaborate with other scientists through increased participation in both national and international conferences.