One aspect of the new approach to politics I’m proposing is that evidence should guide policy-making, and not the other way around.
Yet with recent federal government decisions, we see a disregard for this principle. The cuts to the St. Andrews Biological Station (SABS), the oldest marine research facility in Canada, are a case in point.
The cuts include the closure of a unique Contaminants and Toxicology lab. They also include the closure of the scientific library, and the movement of the library’s holdings to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax.
Both of these decisions have direct impacts on the community and on the quality of evidence that is available to researchers and industry.
The closure of the lab means the loss of a local centre of excellence that is able to respond effectively to toxic spills in the region. It means that there will be less advice given to industry on how to maintain a sustainable fishery, including aquaculture.
The closure of the library – which was only recently rebuilt at a price tag of $4 million – means that staff at SABS, the Huntsman Ocean Sciences Centre, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the aquaculture industry, academics, and students will no longer be able to consult the library’s holdings without significant delays.
There are indirect impacts as well, including the loss of local knowledge and evidence for sound policy-making, and the loss of economic spin-offs as the centre becomes less attractive to visiting researchers.
In response to these cuts, the community sprang into action and provided evidence-based arguments against the cuts.
They formed the Save Ocean Science (SOS) group, held information sessions that had a variety of stakeholders voicing their opinion and people from all political stripes in attendance as well. They held a rally that attracted 600 supporters who formed a human chain that spelled SOS in the field at Indian Point. They have lobbied elected officials and decision-makers.
They even put forward a business case for keeping the library at St. Andrews, arguing that the library’s value to the community is $1.6 million, while the threatened cuts would save the federal government only $120,000 per year – a number that would be quickly eroded by the cost of maintaining the holdings elsewhere.
In this case – through hard work, reasoned arguments, and mobilizing their neighbours – the people are fighting to overturn these decisions. It is crucial for there to be dialogue in these circumstances, which is central to a new approach to politics. Concerned citizens deserve explanations for decisions by their government – especially when those decisions involve the removal of services and resources from the community. The absence of dialogue often means that there is no good reason for the decision.
To be sure, tough economic times call for tough measures. But decisions to cut resources that provide significant evidence for policy-makers should be undertaken with great care, focusing on the larger picture and the long-term bottom-line.
It’s time for a dialogue based on evidence. At least one side understands this and is acting accordingly.
Brian Gallant, NB Liberal Leadership Candidate
*** Cette pièce est en anglais seulement car elle a été écrite spécifiquement pour les médias anglophones ***
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