Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fair is fair - Science Under Harper

So it's been awhile. I've been restraining myself because what I really want to write about is the election next week and the US subprime crisis. But I write about science, mostly (go Habs go), and so have tried to avoid these topics, which then keep me from writing. Which brings me to a summary of Canadian science news during Harper's term as Prime Minister. Election- and science-related, which is a big coup for me.

I could bring up that Harper backed us out of the Kyoto protocol, news about which seems to come up in "Science" sections of the news frequently. Seriously, our response to this relatively slow-moving but incredibly serious threat resembles that of FEMA's to Katrina, i.e. to lay back and hope the problem will blow itself out before anybody has to do anything. Harper's environmental plans are simply awful. I don't know if carbon tax is the right way to go, but Harper's plan will lead to increased emissions. Simple as that. Not that Dion's record on emissions was spectacular as Minister of the Environment, but you have to limit the amount of blame you can put at his feet, as he was only there two years.

I have to mention a positive thing - long deserved tax exemptions for graduate students. Graduate students make very little money - averaging under $20 000 annually - so getting that kickback really makes a difference. Plus, it never made sense to me that our government charged taxes on money they gave my boss in order for me to study. Harper actually increased the number of fellowships available to students - in science, anyways, I don't know about anywhere else - which is pretty good. Harper has given modest increases to funding agencies, but any government will have trouble keeping pace with the Chretien Liberals, who did things like increase the budget of the Canadian Institute for Health Research from $289 million to $666 million over 6 years, which is a stunning feat.

Another big thing that Harper got press for was dropping the position of National Science Advisor. This got him condemned by Nature, one of the most important journals in the world. They readily admit that the post was woefully underpowered and underfunded upon its creation by the Liberals, but relegating it from direct Prime Ministerial interaction to a subdivision of some Ministry, and then phasing it out for the Science, Technology and Innovation Council wasn't a step forward. This represents a typically Canadian approach to politics - create 18 jobs where one would do, and give at least 9 to your friends.

But then there some other things I wasn't a fan of. Him opposing safe injection sites when there's a pile of evidence they work. Health Canada started calling for them as early as 2002, and Harper wants to eliminate those few that exist. This is an example where the Prime Minister is refusing to let science shape policy. Him firing the head of the nuclear commission when she shut down a potentially unsafe Chalk River nuclear plant. His then-Environment Minister Rona Ambrose engaging in a little old-fashioned Big Brother-type censorship.

All in all, I think science and technology would fare better under someone that wasn't Harper, and allows science to have a role informing policy, and doesn't engage in downright lying and bullying to advance their agenda. Science should change your policies - it apports new information. That's what it's for, and why the government funds billions in research and development projects. The least we can ask our politicians to do is to take some return from that investment.

Next week - the Nobel Prizes.


Erin said...

Ah! Election angst! I wondered where you'd recently. (That's right - I lurk, I just don't say anything).

Ian Vitro said...

Nothing compared to what I have to say about the subprime crisis, but I think the worst is behind me...