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Conservatives defeat Liberal motion to create ‘chief science officer’

posted May 28, 2015, 5:46 PM by SOS SaveOceanScience

By Michael Woods

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick Liberal MP's Ted Hsu, left to right, Marc Garneau and Kirsty Duncan hold a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 26, 2015, regarding the government's muzzling of scientists and the need to ensure that publicly-funded scientific research is freely available to the Canadian public.

The federal government should create a new “chief science officer” position to help ensure government research is accessible and federal scientists aren’t muzzled, the Liberals said Tuesday.

A Liberal motion debated in the House of Commons called on the government to “immediately rescind all rules and regulations that muzzle government scientists.”

The motion led by Kingston MP Ted Hsu said the government has constrained federal scientists’ ability to share their research and muzzled them by preventing them from speaking to the media about their work.

“The public must be confident that the information comes directly from scientists and is free from partisan political influence,” Hsu said in the Commons.

The motion suggested two measures: that the government create a central portal for government-funded science so the public can view it, and appoint a Chief Science Officer who would advise the Prime Minister and ensure government science is accessible.

“We want to give that person the responsibility for making sure that the government science is accessible to people … and that scientists are able to speak freely about their research,” Hsu said in an interview with Metro on Tuesday.

The Conservative majority defeated the motion Tuesday evening, 145-119. But Hsu said prior to the vote he was still looking forward to a “clash of ideas.”

And he said the Liberals will include the proposals in their platform for the upcoming federal election.

The Conservatives contend that they do not muzzle scientists, pointing to the hundreds of media interviews that researchers in various departments conduct, and the funding they have devoted to science and technology research.

“Why would we put that kind of money to support scientists when he claims we’re muzzling them?” Ed Holder, the minister of state for science and technology said in the Commons.

The Conservatives also pointed out that they created the Science, Technology and Innovation Council in 2007, comprised of 18 experts with a mandate to advise the government.

But the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the union representing more than 15,000 federal scientists and researchers, has pushed for policies enforcing “scientific integrity” at the bargaining table, including the right for scientists to speak freely without political interference.

Katie Gibbs, executive director of the non-partisan group Evidence for Democracy, applauded Hsu’s proposals.

“There’s a pretty compelling body of evidence that shows that they’re being muzzled,” including “over a dozen incredibly well-documented cases of very explicit censorship of government scientists.”