Tag Archives: Steven Harper

Canada’s federal scientists bargain for the right to present scientific results without government interference

I believe this latest bargaining round (h/t Dec. 3, 2014 news item on phys.org) between the Canadian federal government (Treasury Board) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC; a multi-disciplinary professional union representing 60,000 members employed by the Canadian federal government) is extraordinary. To my knowledge, no other union in this country has ever bargained for the right to present information without political interference or, more briefly, integrity. (Should you know otherwise, please let me know.)

Kathryn May in a Dec. 2, 2014 article for the Ottawa Citizen seems to have broken the news,

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents more than 15,000 scientists, researchers and engineers, is tabling a negotiating position for managing science in the “public interest” with a list of demands for Treasury Board negotiators that dramatically push the boundaries of traditional collective bargaining in the public service.

The 7,000 members of PIPSC’s large applied science and patent examination group are the first at the table with Treasury Board this week, followed by 2,300 members of the research group next week.

A document obtained by the Citizen shows the union is looking for changes to deal with the ongoing spending cuts in science and “interference” in the integrity of scientific work.

The integrity policies will ensure science is done in the public interest; information and data is shared; scientists can collaborate, seek peer review and be protected from political meddling, “intimidation,” “coercion” or pressure to alter data.

It’s hard to tell how much of this is political grandstanding but it should be noted that there has been international notice of the situation in Canada (from the news article),

About a month ago [late October or early November 2014], hundreds of scientists from around the world signed an open letter appealing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the “burdensome restrictions” Canada’s scientists face in talking about their work and collaborating with international colleagues.

The letter, signed by 800 scientists from 32 countries, was drafted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which represents U.S. scientists.

May’s article goes on to note,

The union has extensively surveyed federal scientists in recent years and issued two major reports that found scientists don’t feel they can freely speak and that spending cuts are affecting Canadians’ health, safety and environment.

A quarter of scientists surveyed said they have been asked to exclude or alter information. That request, whether explicit or implicit, came from the department, ministers’ offices or the Prime Minister’s Office. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of scientists believe policy is being compromised by political interference.

Specifically, PIPSC wants a scientific integrity policy for Treasury Board and the 40 science-based departments and agencies. The union would be consulted in the drafting and the final policy would be part of the collective agreements and made public.

The policy would touch on a range of issues and existing policies, but the key proposal is the “right to speak.” The union wants a clause guaranteeing scientists the right to express their personal views while making clear they don’t speak for government.

The other big demand is professional development, allowing scientists to attend meetings, conferences and courses to maintain their professional standards.

Do please read May’s article in its entirety (assuming the news paper continues to make it freely available) as it is riveting for anyone interested in this topic.

A Dec. 3, 2014 PIPSC news release provides more details about specific negotiating points,

The proposal being tabled would see enforceable policies negotiated that, among other things, ensure:

  • federal scientists have the right to speak;
  • reinvestment in research programs;
  • adequate national and international collaboration among scientists;
  • preservation of government science knowledge and libraries, and;
  • a guaranteed role in informing evidence-based public policy.

“It’s sad, frankly, that it’s come to this,” added Daviau [Debi Daviau, PIPSC president]. “But negotiating provisions in our collective agreements seems to be the only way to get this government’s attention and adopt meaningful, enforceable scientific integrity standards. At least this way our members would have the chance to grieve violations of standards they argue are essential to maintaining adequate public science services.”

The negotiating point (4th bullet) about libraries seems to have arisen from a specific cost-cutting exercise involving the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans libraries mentioned in my Jan. 30,  2014 posting. (The disbursement of some priceless volumes along with standard texts appeared to have been done with all the grace and thoughtfulness one would expect from a mindless mob.)

On a related note, I attended a four-day international congress in August 2014 and was surprised by the lack of Canadian scientists at this meeting. Perhaps this is not an area (alternatives to animal testing) where we have invested much research money but it was surprising and somehow shocking that so few Canadian scientists were giving presentations; there was one scientific presentation from a group at the University of British Columbia.

The issues around scientific integrity are complex and I’m not comfortable with the notion of including the principles in a union contract. My experience is that unions can be just as repressive and reductive as any government agency. That said, I think the practice of scientific integrity in Canada needs to be addressed in some fashion and if the only means we have is a union contract then, so be it.

It may be a few weeks before I get back to the topic of scientific integrity and the right to speak as I’m still catching up from all that teaching but I hope to have a more thoughtful and complex piece on these issues written before the year’s end.

ETA Dec. 4, 2014 1245 hours (PDT), coincidentally or not the Canadian federal government announced today * a $1.5 billlion fund (over 10 years) for research (from a Dec. 4, 2014 University of British Columbia [UBC) news release),

The University of British Columbia [UBC] welcomes today’s announcement of the $1.5-billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), designed to significantly enhance the capabilities and competitiveness of Canada’s post-secondary institutions, says President Arvind Gupta.

“Thanks to this investment by the Government of Canada, our universities have an extraordinary opportunity to foster globally significant research on issues that have the capacity to change people’s lives and shape our future,” said Gupta. “Excellence in research makes our reputation, and enables us to attract the best faculty, students and staff from around the world.”

UBC will be among Canada’s top universities competing for up to tens of millions of dollars annually in CFREF funding over the course of the 10-year program. These new funds could support UBC’s emerging research and innovation strategy, designed to put students at the cutting edge of knowledge, providing access to the latest discoveries and revelations, noted Gupta.

UBC is internationally recognized for research excellence in such areas as: Quantum materials; translational genomics and precision oncology; economics; neurosciences; biodiversity; bio-economics; and microbial diversity, among others.

You can read the full UBC news release here. There were a few details more to be had in a U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities Dec. 4, 2014 news release,

The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities applauds the official launch of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the Fund today, accompanied by Ed Holder, minister of state for science and technology, at an event attended by representatives from the post-secondary education sector and industry.

“Since its announcement in Budget 2014, The U15 has been looking forward to the official launch of CFREF as a significant commitment by Canada to support globally competitive research excellence,” said Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur, chair of The U15 and president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “This Fund will allow successful institutions to better compete on the international stage in established areas of research strength as well as new and emerging areas that will support Canada’s scientific standing and long-term economic advantage.”

Interesting timing, non?

* ‘of’ removed from sentence on Dec. 4, 2014.

Science and a Conservative majority government in Canada

In the wake of last night’s (May 2, 2011) victory for the Conservative party, I decided to take another look at their platform (the part dealing with science) for this election. Here are excerpts from what it had to say about science,


Building on our support for world-class research, a re-elected Steven Haper government will make new investments to:
• establish 10 additional Canada Excellence
Research Chairs;
• support the outstanding work of the Institut national d’optique;
• invest in strengthening the Perimeter Institute’s position as a world-leading research centre for theoretical physics; and
• leverage funding to support Brain Canada’s efforts to develop new diagnostics, treatments and cures for brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2010 we launched an independent expert panel to conduct a comprehensive review of all federal business research and development initiatives and to recommend ways to ensure our investments
deliver results.

We will take action on the findings of the Research and Development Review Panel, when it submits its report later this year.


… Our purpose is to build on our actions
so far in this area – for example:

• our plan to extend broadband coverage to 200,000 additional households in rural and remote regions; and
• our successful efforts to increase competition and choice and to lower costs for wireless consumers.

Later this spring, a re-elected Stephen Harper Government will announce and begin implementing a Digital Economy Strategy, focused five priorities:

• building world-class digital infrastructure;
• encouraging businesses to adopt digital technologies;
• supporting digital skills development;
• fostering the growth of Canadian companies supplying digital technologies to global markets; and
• creating made-in-Canada content across all platforms, to bring Canada to the world.

To achieve these goals, among other specific actions we will:

• support collaborative projects between colleges and small- and medium-sized businesses to accelerate the adoption of information and communications technologies;
• promote enrolment in post-secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs; and
• build Canada’s digital content through additional support for the Canada Media Fund.

A Stephen Harper-led majority Government will also reintroduce and pass the Copyright Modernization Act, [emphasis mine] a key pillar in our commitment to make Canada a leader in the global digital economy.

This balanced, commonsense legislation [emphasis mine] recognizes the practical priorities of teachers, students, artists, families, and technology companies, among others, while aligning Canada with international standards. It respects both the rights of creators and the interests of consumers.

It will ensure that Canada’s copyright law will be responsive in a fast changing digital world, while protecting and creating jobs, promoting innovation, and attracting investment to Canada.

Also, as part of the next wireless spectrum auction, we will set aside spectrum for emergency responders.


Canada’s export-oriented space agency world – the fifth largest in the world – employs more than 80,000 Canadians in well-paid, highly skilled jobs in almost every region of the country. It is also one of
the top investors in industrial research and development – high-tech innovation that attracts talent to Canada and creates more good new jobs for Canadians.

Through a consultative process involving the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada and their member firms we will conduct a comprehensive review of policies and programs to develop a federal
policy framework to maximize the competitiveness of Canada’s aerospace and space industry.

We will also ensure stable funding is provided ensure stable funding is provided for the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative. (pp. 14-16)

There are some good things here. The last time I looked at a Conservative party platform, a few years after the election, and read over the basic research and development section, I noticed that too was mostly bullet points and that they had followed through on all but one of the four bullet points. Given the modest ambitions expressed in this document, 10 more Excellence Research chairs, etc., I imagine they will be able to follow through on everything they’ve promised in that regard.

In including the other sections, Digital Economy and Aerospace Industry, I wanted to redress an oversight on my part as I have largely ignored these sections in favour of commenting on research and development issues in regard to science policy.

I have to admit to being a bit miffed about the references to a Steven Harper government as opposed to a Conservative Party government. It’s something I found disturbing a few month’s back when the PMO’s (Prime Minister’s Office) did declare that references to the government should be written as Steven Harper’s government and not the Conservative government.