'Unmuzzled' scientists still need tight leash, Liberals advi

'Unmuzzled' scientists still need tight leash, Liberals advi

Postby Oscar » Sun Mar 20, 2016 7:48 am

'Unmuzzled' scientists still need tight leash, Liberals advised

[ http://www.metronews.ca/news/canada/201 ... erals.html ]

The new government has pledged to end an effective gag order on government scientists but documents prepared for the Treasury Board warn of dangers.

By: Staff Torstar News Service Published on Sat Mar 19 2016

OTTAWA—Senior civil servants warned the new Liberal government that “unmuzzled” scientists still need a tight leash, internal documents show.

The new Liberal government has pledged to end an effective gag order on government scientists, who for years have faced major restrictions on speaking publicly about their research.

But documents prepared for Treasury Board President Scott Brison warn that when government policy and scientific pursuits don’t align, the scientists may exact their revenge.

“It is the legitimate role of politicians to set priorities. In setting priorities for government programs, science is but one factor,” read the documents, obtained under access to information laws. “While scientists may be disappointed when projects receive less funding or attention, it remains the role of ministers to determine priorities and defend them before the Canadian public.”

The documents were sent to Brison by Yaprak Baltacioglu, the top bureaucrat at Treasury Board. Brison is not the minister responsible for government science, but as the head of Treasury Board is responsible for the government’s overall communications policy.

The document notes that policy already “encourages public servants to communicate openly with the public,” a point that may come as a surprise to anyone who has attempted to speak to a public servant in the last decade.

More broadly, the documents warn, allowing public servants to be “openly critical” of government decisions would undermine the relationship between bureaucrats and their elected masters.

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More recently, Environment Canada employee Tony Turner was suspended from his job after recording an anti-Harper protest song.

“Where I got caught was in the value and ethics code . . . my research per se wasn’t muzzled, it was what they perceived to be violating the (code) by speaking out against the government,” Turner said in an interview Friday.

CLASHES BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC SCIENTISTS:

June 2010: The Conservative government quietly announces they intend to kill the mandatory long-form census, angering pretty much any group that relied on good demographic data, from business organizations to academics.

July 2012: Hundreds of scientists gather on Parliament Hill to protest the “death of evidence,” saying budget cuts have hurt their ability to conduct research on the environment, public health, and climate change.

October 2013: A full 90 per cent of respondents to a PIPSC poll say they can’t speak freely about their research, while 71 per cent say they believe their work has been “compromised” for political reasons. Another 24 per cent say they’ve been asked to modify or remove findings for non-scientific reasons.

February 2014: PIPSC releases a poll showing half of federal scientists believe budget cuts are jeopardizing their ability to do their job, and 91 per cent believe upcoming cuts will further erode that ability.

October 2014: The non-partisan Evidence for Democracy group gives federal departments a C- on their media policies restricting scientists ability to speak publicly.

November 2015: Journalists are shocked when a government scientist actually agrees to do an interview.
Oscar
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