Election 2015: (Opinion) Let the scientists speak

Capital News reporter Kevin Parnell speak with Democracy Watch, a watchdog group tracking political promises and more

  • Tue Sep 22nd, 2015 3:00pm
  • News

When it comes to the environment, one would assume that scientists would be the best available source to try and figure out complex things like climate change.

Further, one might think scientists who work for the government should be the most trustworthy, given that their salaries are paid for by the taxpayers and they are non-partisan meaning they work for whichever party takes power in Ottawa. Like politicians, they are supposed to work for us.

But in Canada—the true north strong and free—information is not power on this issue. Unless you are in government and you are keeping the information secret to continue your grip on the country.

In this case we’re talking about Canada, a country that by most accounts, has fallen behind many others when it comes to dealing with climate change and appears hell-bent on continuing its reliance on fossil fuels, not only for use at home but also as our main export industry.

Experts say climate change is the toughest issue to deal with for political parties because it is a global problem that will need everyone working together to try and solve. So what we need is teamwork and a government willing to share information and work well with others. Is this what we have in Canada?

Not according to an Ottawa-based non-partisan and not-for-profit government watch-dog called Democracy Watch. That group is still waiting for the results of its 2013 complaint to the federal information commissioner on this very issue. They say the Conservatives have violated its own Access to Information Act with a policy that requires scientists to get clearance from the government before they talk to the media and the public.

“Any government official including government scientists are employees of the public so the public has a right to know what they are doing and what they are telling the government,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and visiting law professor of the University of Ottawa. “The basis of our complaint is that essentially the government does not want those people speaking publicly because what they are showing contradicts the government agenda.”

Part of the problem is the actual Access to Information Act, a law that is supposed to keep the government accountable to the people. But Conacher says there are many loopholes in the access to information acts.

“They should actually be called ‘how to hide information from the public acts.’ That’s what they actually are: A guide for politicians on how to hide information from the public,” said Conacher.  “What they are trying to hide is scientific results by government scientists that contradict the government’s viewpoint and agenda.”

Ask a Conservative MP about this issue, as we did, and you will hear denials. They don’t muzzle scientists and aren’t trying to control the flow of information. They would never! But how do we trust what a politician says when the track record of truth versus lies is a joke.

Democracy Watch also tracks promises made by federal parties in election campaigns and whether or not they follow through on their promises. Here’s a shocker: Turns out they are usually lying. According to Democracy Watch, the Conservatives did just that to get elected in 2006, when they made eight promises on an accountability act and kept just one.

“In 2006 the Conservatives baited voters with false promises of cleaning up the government and making it more transparent and the Liberals may be doing that now,” said Conacher. “We will have to wait until all the platforms are out. We know politicians are lying about some of their promises so voters should take all promises with a grain of salt because of the rampant problem of dishonesty in politics. Usually they break about half their promises. That’s been about the average”

The rampant problem of dishonesty in politics. Reassuring right? With that I say good luck Canada. Sounds like we need it.