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Finding that BC Gov’t Scientists Don’t Feel They Can Speak to Media ‘Shocking,’ Says NDP Critic

‘It really reminded me of the regime of Stephen Harper,’ says George Heyman.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 7 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

The results of a survey in which 49 per cent of British Columbia’s public scientists say political interference is hampering their work is “shocking,” according to the provincial New Democrats’ critic for the environment, green economy and technology.

George Heyman said Thursday’s report by Evidence for Democracy, an evidence-based organization advocating for government transparency, shows the BC Liberal government has been putting the public good on the back burner to please industry.

Nearly half of the 403 scientists surveyed said political interference is a problem, and just three per cent said they feel they can speak freely to the media about their research.

“Three per cent of scientists who were surveyed by the association felt they could speak freely. Only three per cent? That’s shocking,” Heyman said.

The survey was partially funded by the union representing public scientists in the province, but the Professional Employees Association said Evidence for Democracy retained decision-making power over the questions and report.

Union executive director Scott McCannell told The Tyee yesterday that scientists need to be able to speak freely to the media so the public knows what recommendations and advice they are giving the government.

The lack of transparency along with the cutting back of 25 per cent of public scientist jobs in the province are contributing to a lack of firm reports and documents to help craft policy, McCannell said.

Heyman said he’s seen this before.

“It really reminded me of the regime of Stephen Harper federally,” Heyman said. “Now we have a report in British Columbia that reads essentially the same.”

During the Harper years in Ottawa, federal scientists complained about political interference and muzzling. The issue became one of the more contentious subjects of the Conservative government.

Heyman said transparent and independent environmental assessment processes need to be established so the public can see if the government is going against the advice of scientists.

He pointed to the BC Liberal government’s pushing of the New Prosperity Mine project, despite it being rejected by the federal government twice, as an instance where undermining of the public interest was visible.

Shortly before Christy Clark was made premier in 2011, she pledged to convince Ottawa to reverse a decision stopping the mine. It was given a second review by the federal government following complaints from the mine about the first rejection.

The government was asked for a response to the report and specific questions about some aspects of it, but The Tyee did not receive a response by press time.  [Tyee]

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