Scientists protest federal cutbacks to environmental monitoring

Noted scientist calls latest Franklin expedition a front for oil and gas exploration

Dr. Andrew Weaver

A leading Canadian climate scientist today slammed the search for the long-lost 1845 Franklin Expedition as a veiled front for future oil and gas extraction in the high Arctic.

Andrew Weaver, a professor in the University of Victoria school of earth and ocean sciences, called the search for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror a “joke” during an off-the-cuff speech during a noontime rally in downtown Victoria.

“The Franklin Expedition is using tax dollars to seismically survey the ocean bottom for future oil and gas exploration. That has nothing to do with science,” Weaver said. “It’s all about oil and gas exploration. They are mapping out the floor.”

Researchers in white lab jackets, Raffi Cavoukian, a.k.a Raffi the children’s entertainer, Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, joined Weaver in denouncing cutbacks in environmental research spending, and the fear cultivated among federal scientists about speaking publicly about research that might contradict the Conservative government’s economic goals.

“Morale at federal government science labs is at an all-time low,” Weaver said to a crowd of several hundred people gathered at Yates and Government streets, outside a federal building. “What’s happening in Canada is science is happening behind closed doors … and is only made public if it fits with the government’s agenda.”

Weaver, among other speakers, also noted that federal scientists often aren’t authorized to speak with the media, and that instead, journalists receive scripted “media lines” on research from federal communications officers.

“We used  to laugh about what was happening to science in the George W. Bush era. It pales in comparison to what is going on now (in Canada),” Weaver said.

Critics of the Conservative government argue that federal economic policy trumps science and environmental monitoring. Politicians at the rally pointed to cuts in long-running Arctic program to monitor the ozone layer, cuts in staff to monitor the health of marine ecosystems and sea life, and cuts across the board to federal agencies which monitor natural resources and environmental compliance.

“Why do citizens across this country have to rally for science? We have to rally against ignorance,” May told the crowd. “Canadians are being put at risk by this shortsighted, reckless Stephen Harper government.”

A speaker who donned a fake mustache and beard, and who was confirmed to be a research scientist out of the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, told the crowd the Conservative government cut funding for a $12 million national program that monitored pollutants in the ocean that accumulate in marine food chain and ecosystem.

“The country has terminated the eyes and ears on the ocean pollution front,” he said, referring to himself jokingly as Dr X. “Dr. X” told the News that he remains and employee of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and could be subject to legal repercussions for speaking publicly.

As for the 2012 Franklin Expedition, the government said in August that it is indeed mapping the Arctic ocean floor as part of ongoing surveys conducted in 2008, 2010 and 2011 by Parks Canada’s underwater archaeology service.

A press release from the Prime Minister’s Office in August said the 2012 Franklin expedition will collect data for the production of navigational charts and topographical maps in the Arctic.

Weaver’s fellow scientists from the UVic Ocean Technology Lab are operating an autonomous underwater vehicle to gather three-dimensional data of the ocean floor for the Franklin survey areas, for the Parks Canada-led expedition.

“The use of cutting-edge technology by the team to map the Arctic waters and locate the Franklin vessels is also a tribute to Canadian expertise,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a release.


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