by Jon Mace
Science budget cuts and changes to policy at the hands of the federal government are damaging scientists’ ability to serve the public, a new study suggests.
Between the 2012-2013 and the 2015-2016 fiscal years, a total of $2.6 billion is slated to be cut from ten federal science departments.
According to newly released data from a survey conducted by Environics Research, over nine out of 10 federal government scientists believe such reductions will have a detrimental impact on the government’s ability to serve the public.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) represents some 55,000 professionals and scientists across Canada’s public sector, many of which are concerned about the health and safety of all Canadians, as well as their own job security.
“We’re expecting that by the time we hit 2016, we’ll be looking at 5,000 jobs cut in different science sectors,” said Paul Bleyer, head of Policy and Communications for the PIPSC, “half of which have already taken place.”
“We have major cuts expected in areas of health, disease prevention as well as transportation of dangerous goods which seems to be in poor taste after the Lac-Mégantic derailment.”
A similar study by Environics reveals that nearly three quarters of the public surveyed believe public health, safety and protection of the environment should be the government’s top science priorities. These are some of the areas that may suffer some of the most severe cuts.
“The Harper government’s efforts to balance the federal budget in time for the 2015 election are being built on deep, unpopular cuts to public science that put at risk Canadians’ health, safety and the environment,” said PIPSC President Debi Daviau. “There are not cutbacks 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.”
Aside from proposed financial cutbacks, scientists are facing a whole new set of rules in terms of intellectual property rights as well as increased difficulty in collaborating with colleagues.
“There’s a whole new layer of rules being put in place that are not publicly available,” said Bleyer. “These rules will prevent them from collaborating with international colleagues and really undermining their ability to compete on a global scale.”
Ucal Shillingford, a graduate research assistant at the University of Guelph, said that even at the university level these policies will affect his research.
“All the scientists I’ve worked with know and agree that it’s hampering their research, especially in vital areas such as smoke stack emissions, fishery control and protection, environmental research, and natural sciences research,” he said adding any further cutbacks will further minimize Canada’s progress and position on a global scale.
“They are putting more red tape and hurdles around working with people abroad,” said Shillingford. “A lot of advanced research comes from abroad and if Canadian researchers can’t get their hand in the pot, then we’ll just keep falling behind and stunting our own growth.”
Bleyer, in the PIPSC’s study “Vanishing Science”, suggests that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) agrees with Shillingford; Canadians are at risk of losing their international presence.
“We are rapidly falling down the charts,” said Bleyer. “Every year our ranking by the OCED has been decreasing in terms of investment in governmental public interest sciences.”