Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Why I may not move back to Canada any time soon

This is a bit of a change from my palaeontology-related posts, but this is something that is pretty important to any Canadian scientists, or anyone wanting to do science in Canada. This is why it is becoming more and more likely I'm not going to return to Canada as a scientist any time soon. 

In the past, people thought of Canada as being in the middle or slightly left-wing hippies that cared about the environment. Not so anymore. A recent story from the CBC looked at "How the world sees Canada", basically interviewing Canadians that live abroad, and are generally in high positions such as university professors. There are some good responses with Canada being a "best kept secret", "fascinating" and more. Unfortunately, it is not all good. Stories of our Public Safety Minister comparing environmentalists to "white supremacists" and "terrorists" and Canadian mining companies "ravaging community after community" in Guatemala. Even worse is when anything about funding or the environment comes up. The one that gets me the most, however, is from a professor in Hull, U.K:
My students, so obsessed these days with environmental themes, revered Canada as a country with more enlightened ideas about preserving the planet. Not any more. Now they talk of oil extraction, of the despoilation of the Arctic North and of Canada's characterization of its environmentalists as subversive.
That pretty much says it all. Canada went from being someone that cared about the environment, to pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol (without really trying to be a part of it), and very nearly denying climate change. Thank you Stephen Harper. On top of that, there is evidence that the Canadian government is keeping it's scientists quiet. Permission must be granted to speak to the media, and in any controversial case, that permission isn't granted. There are two prime examples of this: one with regards to a study on falling salmon stocks, and another on a hole in the ozone layer. Really? Muzzling scientists? I would not expect this from any western country, especially not Canada. Censoring what scientists are allowed to talk about is not cool. Not cool at all.

Now although the above stuff makes me mad, the main reason I may not return, is this: Canada is cutting a lot of it's science funding. A recent budget was passed by the federal government, which names many cuts to science including cutting government research jobs, getting rid of several government-funded research projects, and pollution control. They announced that they are going to scrap the Experimental Lakes Area, which has provided valuable information about acid rain and possible prevention methods. And to take the cake, all funding to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science has been axed. Completely. So has funding to the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory. Seriously guys? What are you doing! Furthermore, Harper has shown interest only in projects that have an industrial side, not pure science. There goes palaeontology. Last time I checked, there wasn't much of a palaeo industry.

Fortunately, Canadian scientists are not taking this lightly. According to the CBC, scientists are rallying today in what they call the "Death of Evidence". They are doing an old fashioned march up to Parliament Hill dressed in lab coats or black, to prove a point. I doubt it's going to do anything, but I'm happy to see it's happening, and sad I can't be there.

Basically as long as the Conservatives and Harper are in power, science funding is only going to get worse and worse, and since I'm not in a field that tends to get a lot of funding, that's bad news. It's bad news for all Canadian scientists, but it's even worse for purely experimental sciences. I once had a dream of returning to Canada to continue my research, but that dream seems to slowly be slipping away...