By privatizing such research the government can then cherry pick researchers to ensure that those getting contracts understand what results are expected if the research area is one where the government has firm policy views.
Cuts "disheartening" as public policy research shifts quietly into private hands
Science role of federal government diminished - something brewing at Environment Canada?
OTTAWA, September 13, 2007: The federal government may be quietly privatizing and out-sourcing basic research needed for public policy and safety.
Federal science staff have been laid off as a result last March's federal budget, and 17 federal departments and agencies have been told to slice five percent of expenditures, according to the association that represents federal professionals. Last week, for instance, came news that the National Research Council is laying off 105 employees at 14 institutions across Canada.
"We are quite concerned about the recurring theme of expenditure review," said Michèle Demers, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC). "This is not new. It was something we were seriously affected by with previous government, but it is more up front and centre on the radar screen" with the current government. Along with the research council layoff, she says she is "hearing rumours that something is brewing at Environment Canada. With the bad press the government is having on environmental issues, you'd think that would be the last place for a bunch of cuts."
She says public servants are "being asked to do more with less and be more efficient, but we have no more room to maneuver other than cutting programs or doing half-assed jobs."
She sees the push for cuts as part of a privatization trend that includes the recent sale of nine federal properties to private interests - an attempt to get private and university laboratories to do research that properly should be done be government scientists.
In August Treasury Board President Vic Toews announced the creation of an independent expert panel "to provide advice on transferring federal non- regulatory laboratories, including a range of different management options." Toews said in a news release, "I have asked this panel to advise the government on different options for managing non-regulatory federal laboratories so that Canada benefits from a strong and collaborative science and technology sector."
Five federal labs have been identified by the panel for possible closure, says Demers. "Is this just the tip of the iceberg?" She asks. "There is a lot of concern and worry about where this government is going in terms of increasing cash flow for other priorities. You do not need a rocket scientist to figure out where their other priorities are," she said, indicating she meant the military.
She supports partnerships with scientists from universities and the corporate world, but "To hand over the responsibility and the accountability to the private sector which does not have a mandate to develop public policies is not acceptable."
Demers said the cutbacks have become "disheartening" to many federal scientists. Last week her Institute held an "extraordinary" international symposium on the role of public science. She said that compared with their international colleagues, Canadian federal public scientists "are being limited almost to inaction because of lack of vision for public science and programs." She says her members feel their funding is going to the private sector "to the detriment of scientists working for the public."
On August 31, the Globe and Mail reported that federal departments and agencies are being told to reallocate five percent of expenditures away from "lowest-priority or lowest-performing" projects. Depeartments are being told that if the Cabinet can find better ways to spend the money, the department will lose this percentage of their funding altogether. This is a twist on the expenditure review announced in the 2007 federal budget, which did not mention the five percent reduction target. Slated for review this year are Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canadian Heritage, Canadian International Development Agency, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canadian Museum of Nature, Finance Canada, Canadian International Trade Tribunal, Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, International Development Research Centre, Library and Archives Canada, National Gallery of Canada, National Museum of Science and Technology, Parks Canada, Statistics Canada and Transport Canada. According to the Globe article, "The opposition says the structure of the plan suggests the programs that will be cut are those that don't mesh with Conservative ideology