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RFT Rant – Ep 239 – Book Burning and Harper’s war on science

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 20, 2014


This week my rant is about yet another front on Harper’s war on science. 7 of 9 of our world-famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] libraries were closed in the autumn of 2013. This was ostensibly to reduce cost. The government pledged to digitize the contents of these libraries to ensure no intellectual property was lost.

In the modern information age, buildings holding books with information does seem a tad out dated. Digitalizing information not only makes it easier to store, allows more to be stored but also makes it more accessible. In theory.

If this were where the story ended, you my loyal readers may ask what’s the rant?

Well, it is coming to light that only a fraction of the contents of these libraries have been electronically copied. It seems that only 1 in 20 books were converted. Some have been transferred to other libraries, most were given away for free to anyone who walked in and took them from the shelves and a large number are or were burnt or sent to landfills. I have yet to confirm the book burning but it does add a touch of historical resonance.

The government claimed the libraries were not used but based this conclusion on the number of people who asked for help. Let us remember these are largely academic resources used by people who know their way around a library…not likely to need much help. I suspect is was the only measure they could find that seemed low enough to support their political agenda.

Okay…that was a little partisan and I want to make a clarification. Much of this rant is centered on a report from the Tyee…a center-left publication and based on interviews with scientist working for or with the DFO. I have collaborated the central themes, closure and dispersal of books, but I have yet to be able to confirm it in its entirety. That said, Harper’s government has a history of this kind of stuff, so I am willing to give the report the benefit of the doubt.


The report stated that a number of the scientist interviewed could not understand why the libraries were being closed at all. The cost savings would only be in the order of $400,000 a year in a budget of almost $2 billion. And that, to quote “Most saw in the actions a political agenda by the Harper government to reduce the role of government in Canadian society, as well as the use of scientific evidence in making policy.”

One interviewee explained how the system works. The library itself is not actually run by DFO but by Information Management and Technology Services (IMTS). This takeover occurred in 2009.

IMTS operates under a corporate business model. Under this model, one sector of government sells its services to another sector of government with the objective of providing the least amount of service for the largest possible service fee. This would seem to be a very bad business model for running a government department that has the prime objective of long-term public good — giving the public the best return possible on their tax dollar across all sectors of government through working co-operatively.

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Getting back to the Harper agenda, in isolation this would be conjecture and perhaps conspiracy thinking, but couple that with the fact that the government has shut down a number of research groups related to this content, most infamously the Experimental Lakes Area, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission and the DFO’s entire contaminates research program. There has also be much reduced funding for the Freshwater Institute and the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research.

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To bring it home, the last one, also known as COOGER, is the group that would do research into things like offshore oil spills and environmental impact of oil shipping…you know, that thing that they are planning to do in Northern BC to ship Alberta oil to the Asia…Northern Gateway…the one where they promise a ‘quote’ world class response to any oil spill. Hard to have any kind of response when you cut the funding to one of the main research entities focused on that oil-spill issue.


And those works that are transferred to other libraries, access becomes much more difficult. Scientist or the public will no longer be able to walk into a local DFO library, scan the shelves for a pertinent book and grab it. No, now they will have to know what they want ahead of time, make an inter-library loan…time and effort many will not likely go to thus making scientific research that much more difficult.

To quote acclaimed Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings…”It is always unnerving from a research and scientist perspective to watch a government undermine basic research. There are many materials online but just as many books and materials that are not. The idea that you can send an email to Ottawa and get a book somewhere down the road is a myth. The idea that all requests will be honored also won’t happen.”

He goes on to say “From a science and research perspective these closures will have no positive impact on the quality of research but they will have a negative impact. Losing libraries is not a neutral act.”

Hutchings saw the library closures fitting a larger pattern of “fear and insecurity” within the Harper government, “about how to deal with science and knowledge.”


He sees a pattern, the closing of research groups, cutting of funding for environmental research, the muzzling of scientists which we have talked about many times before here on Radio Free Thinker. The near abandonment of climate change research and although Harper is not as bad as Australia’s new Prime Minister who in a 2010 rally stated “The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger”.


Harper said last year that “Canada applauds the decision by Prime Minister Abbott to introduce legislation to repeal Australia’s carbon tax,”

Australian business are also lobbying the government to loosen or at least not tighten greenhouse gas regulations to ensure maximum fossil fuel extraction…they have dirty coal, we have tar sands. In this they both state that nothing major needs to be done. Harper is just ensuring there is NOT the science to contradict his policies.

Infamously Harper abandoned the Kyoto Protocols which called for a 6% reduction of CO2 based on 1990 numbers and pulled out of his arse a 17% reduction based on 2005. That translates into a level over 20% higher…assuming my math is correct…higher than 1990 levels.


All these things indicate that the Harper government strongly regards environmental science as a threat to unfettered resource exploitation.


A recent Sunday editorial in the New York Times said “This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance,”

“It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences.”

One last note, a number of interviewed scientists spoke anonymously because they feared that their funding or other government support could be hurt if their names were connected with the concerns they were eager to share.

Remember our reporting on loyalty oaths to the government and not to the nation? Here you see it come home to roost.

Thanks to our electoral system we cannot stop Harper’s dismantling of the government…of sciences, but we sure as hell can raise a stink about it…make sure everyone knows what he is doing.

The sadist part of my research into this is the absence of coverage by the mainstream media. Even the CBC barely covered the story of the closures let alone the impacts and follow up on trashing government funded research.

As Harper’s arrogance grows, his disrespect for Canada and Canadians…beyond the business class and moneyed elites… has become blatant and stark. But cracks are showing and if and when criminal charges are laid regarding the Duffy Scandal, mayhaps the mighty Harper maybe kicked out by his own party.

Regardless, never forget…2015!


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Attack on political advocacy

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 23, 2012

The Harper government is attempting to pressure environmental groups to stop bothering Conservative donors like Big Oil. May be a bit too pointed? However, one of the aspects of government…particularly politicians…politicians are people…well, people can be vindictive.

The recently successful though partly thwarted mobilization of environmental groups to stop both the Keystone Pipeline to the US and the Northern Gateway Pipeline across northern BC has made our government a bit…well….bitchy.

In January, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued a public letter – diatribe, more like – denouncing “environmental and other radical groups” who “hijack” regulatory bodies and “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

As part of the new budget they are trying to limit ‘foreign’ interference in Canadian politics by ramping up a crackdown on charities that do “too much” political advocacy.

According to Canada’s charity laws, a charity can only dedicate 10% of its resources to political advocacy. There are exceptions made for ‘exceptional’ events and I quote “For example, an environmental conservation charity may decide to mobilize public support in favour of an international environmental treaty by taking out a full-page advertisement in a national newspaper (thereby devoting more than 10% of its total resources that year to political activities) because it reasonably considers that ratifying the treaty would help the charity achieve its goals.”

This budget includes an additional $8,000,000 for Revenue Canada to ensure charities are being only 10% political. A lot of this money is to perform audits which not only cost the taxpayer money to perform but is also a burden on the charity which must pay for its end of the audit. I don’t think I would mind this so much if it did not seem like such cheap politics.

But then again, maybe it is not cheap politics but political opportunism. The public know this is petty but not part of some grand scheme to weaken our regulator defences? Or is it?

They are eliminating the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, originally established in the 1990s to advise the prime minister, which regularly produced reports that challenged the business and environmental policies of the government, particularly regarding climate change.

Couple this with that absence of federal criticism or even acknowledgment of the millions of dollars corporations are spending to promote their industries…corporations that are almost exclusively foreign owned. When our government goes to treaty talks we have taken up the habit of bringing along industry lobbyist. Most notably during the recent talks to limit the arms trade to troubled regions of the world; we brought a gun lobbyist. Coincidently we also took the stand that selling ‘hunting and sporting’ guns should be unregulated. No foreign influence I am sure.

Add to these the new budget  eviscerated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as well as it looks like the majority of job cuts due to spending cuts in the budget are targeting scientists who study thinks like the effects of pollutants on the environment.

So, again why should we as skeptics care?

We often will accuse ‘less skeptic’ types of creating boogeymen where this is none. That there is no great conspiracy to take over the world, pollute our water or kill our children.

To make this claim though, we must have a relative confidence in our regulatory system and the machinery of democracy. If the only people allowed to talk in our democracy are the mega-corps…the only ones providing funding to research…we no longer have the certainty that there may not actually be something in the water. We may not be certain that our politicians are, mostly, working for us. We may not be certain that when the government says “this is safe” or “there is no risk to the environment” that we can trust them or even that they need worry about being truthful.

If the machinery for the public to question government…to challenge the power of the corporations…if that machinery is reduced or lost, we all lose. The changes being made to attack environmental groups will not help skepticism but merely fuel a new generation of conspiracy minded fanatics…and sadly we may not be able to honestly say they are wrong.

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