Federal scientists – and Canadians – won a huge victory in 2017 when PIPSC successfully negotiated to include in our collective agreements the right of members to speak about science and their research.
But years of cuts and sidelining under the Harper government have put our world-class science in danger.
Restoring federal science requires significant reinvestment in both staff and programs, the successful co-development of scientific integrity policies within departments (also negotiated by PIPSC), not to mention the appointment of a Chief Science Officer who, among other things, should be a strong advocate for scientific integrity within the public service.
While the current government deserves kudos for the steps it’s taken so far in repairing the damage inflicted on public science, much remains to be done. PIPSC is committed to ensuring that happens.
- 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 previous 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.
- Federal government science has experienced a dramatic decline not only in funding but in staffing in recent years.
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.
- Preserving and promoting scientific integrity in government is vital to ensuring Canada’s scientists can protect Canadians’ health and safety and promote much-needed innovation. Government scientists should be able to speak freely, conduct adequately funded and staffed research, attend conferences, and meet with colleagues nationally and internationally.
- 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.