Please Advise! Repentant Rona Prays for Scientists' Forgiveness

Doc Steve advises Ambrose on her groundbreaking new experiment.

By Steve Burgess 30 Jan 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

There is a war against science going on in Canada. It is being waged by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government and fearlessly opposed by we, the stalwarts of the Conservative caucus.

Last week our natural resources critic Candice Bergen gave a press conference where she decried the lack of scientific rigour in the decision-making process with regard to pipeline construction. She pointed out that political interference is shifting power from scientists and giving it to Liberal political hacks, an argument I have recently made as well.

Will you join with us to stop this pernicious attack on the scientific community?


Rona Ambrose
Interim Conservative Party Leader

Dear Ms. Ambrose,

Is it Groundhog Day yet? In the movie by the same name, a single day's events repeat over and over. But the 2016 version of Groundhog Day is shaping up to be closer to another movie: Face/Off, where John Travolta and Nicholas Cage swap faces and confuse the hell out of everybody.

There's been a fair amount of Conservative face-swapping and policy-switching since the election. Your party has now decided that scrapping the long-form census was a bad idea and that an enquiry into missing aboriginal women would be a good one. Your reversal on the issue of marijuana dispensary regulation was a particular stunner. Suddenly you're for it. As far as science goes, was that an experiment to determine exactly how much it would take to make people's heads actually explode?

Now the Conservative Party, reviled while in office for marginalizing and arguably terrorizing our nation's scientific community, has recast itself as a bunch of four-eyed geeks in lab coats fighting the good fight for rational decision-making. Naturally, there will be those who describe these sudden Conservative turnabouts as hypocrisy. But isn't it also hypocritical to complain when people who opposed you come around to your way of thinking? For do not the Gospels say there will be more joy in Heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 righteous persons? Heaven must really be whooping it up this month. There's been so much repentance in the Conservative ranks, you'd think the Parliament Building renovations had shifted the House of Commons to a revival tent.

When it comes to the pipeline issue though, I'm afraid your sincerity may legitimately be questioned, Ms. Ambrose. You have criticized the Liberals for overlooking scientific and engineering improvements in pipeline technology. Fair enough. But there's also that other science thing, the one about climate change. So there's science and then there's science. There's the ''How to do it'' part and the ''Should you be doing it at all'' part. And there's this quote from MP Bergen: ''The minister of natural resources, who should be, I believe, a champion and cheerleader for Canadian natural resources, has absolutely abdicated that role.''

Cheerleading? Would that be scientific cheerleading? ''Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Exponents of rational analysis in the field of resource management! Gimme an ''E!'' etc.

Your party's commitment to unbiased decision-making is looking rather selective. Still, I think you're right to worry about political interference in the world of science. It may be akin to worrying about the possibility of tears at a six-year-old's birthday party, but inevitable as the prospect seems it's still proper to express concern. It's even legitimate to ask if the Liberals are simply swapping one set of political biases for another when it comes to oil pipelines. A legitimate debate is raging over Canadian energy resources and just where our responsibilities lie. Progressive hero Rick Mercer got some hackles up among his friends last week by arguing that Montreal mayor Denis Coderre's anti-pipeline stance is both hypocritical and divisive. People can disagree about the way forward.

The real issue is whether your new stated pro-science attitude represents sincere repentance or -- dare I say it -- crass political opportunism of the kind we see in Ottawa over and over again. Is this a new day or just the same old thing on perpetual repeat? As I consider this question, I hear the distinct sounds of Sonny & Cher's ''I Got You Babe'' coming from the bedside radio. We may have a Bill Murray-style Groundhog Day after all.  [Tyee]

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