Remember when Justin Trudeau said that his government's decisions would be evidence based and follow scientific knowledge - unlike the Harper government?
Many of us who have been watching the Trudeau government's decisions and policies have been left to wonder what happened to that bold promise? It just didn't seem to hold water.
Apparently we lay-folks weren't alone. Our skepticism and concerns, as it turns out, are widely shared by Canada's scientific community.
Now 1,500 have signed an open letter to the prime minister asking that he keep his word.
By early afternoon on Tuesday, some 1,500 scientists across the country had signed on to the letter, urging the federal government to deliver on its promise to make decisions based on evidence. This at a time when there are signs — such as its recent approval of a controversial gas terminal in British Columbia — that the Trudeau government is doing the opposite.
Aerin Jacob, a post-doctoral fellow based at the University of Victoria who studies tradeoffs in conservation planning and sustainable development, was one of six scientists who helped spearhead the letter. She said they restricted the signatories to early career researchers, which are people within a few years of completing their PhDs or post-doctoral studies. None of them have permanent jobs and so they are putting themselves at risk by speaking out.
1. Seek and act on the best available evidence
2. Make all information from environmental assessments permanently and publicly available.
3. Assess cumulative environmental effects from past, present, and future projects and activities across multiple scales.
4. Work to prevent and eliminate real, apparent, or potential conflicts-of-interest by requiring public disclosure.
5. Develop explicit decision-making criteria and provide full, transparent rationale of factors considered.
The case of the [LNG]gas terminal is one of a series of recent examples of the government restricting access to federal experts who can explain decisions in an open and transparent way:
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency declined an interview request from National Observer to speak with one of its scientists about its assessment of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project. It also declined to answer questions about how it reviewed evidence and its methodology used to evaluate the environmental impacts of the gas terminal project, explaining that it now faced legal proceedings about the decision on the LNG project and that it would respond to those in court.
Environment and Climate Change Canada has used similar reasoning to prevent its engineers from talking to reporters about their work in reviewing the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal that has resulted in billions of dollars worth of sanctions in the U.S., but no immediate punishment yet in Canada.
The National Energy Board, the federal agency that regulates pipelines and electrical transmission lines, has frequently declined requests from National Observer to answer questions about pipeline safety as well as to grant interviews with experts on topics such as its economic forecasts.
The Trudeau government is doing better than Harper's government at following science, at least where that doesn't get in its way, but that's setting the bar ridiculously low. The five recommended conditions ought to be where the bar is reset, a threshold.
Trudeau promised more. It's time he kept his word.