A hi-tech science gizmo at the Experimental Lakes Area.

A hi-tech science gizmo at the Experimental Lakes Area.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Hope I’m not intruding on your happy family weekend with this blog post which, I’m sorry to say, will only provide more fuel for you inner rage monkey. But I’ve just been listening to the all-party science debate that CBC’s Quirks and Quarks put on yesterday. And I have to share.

Holy crapping Darwin finch. The Conservatives can’t even stick close to the facts in a discussion of science when they’re talking to actual scientists.

The panel Quirks host Bob McDonald put together included Lynne Quarmby for the Green Party (who is a professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University); Marc Garneau for the Liberal Party (who is a former Canadian astronaut); Megan Leslie for the NDP (who is her party’s environment critic); and, Gary Goodyear for the Conservatives (who has weird ideas about evolution and is also a chiropractor).

It’s actually pretty fascinating to hear how casually Goodyear is able to litter the debate with misinformation. It would take hours to adequately debunk every single Harper-friendly myth he perpetuates over the course of the hour. But as I’m heading out the door soon to gorge myself on turkey in a few minutes and expect to be so doped out by tryptophan later on, I only have time to take on one of Goodyear’s howlers.

It comes up after Garneau talks about the Harper Government’s decision to shut down the Experimental Lakes Area, a world-renowned research facility in northwestern Ontario. Goodyear responds this way:

Goodyear: I was involved in that decision. With respect to the Experimental Lakes, we never said we would shut it down. We said that we wanted to transfer it to a facility that was better suited to operate it. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. Right now, DFO is up there undertaking some significant remediation effects to clean up those lakes that are contaminated by the science that’s been going on up there. We all hope these lakes will recover soon so that science and experimentation can continue but not under the federal envelope. So it’s secure and it’s misleading to suggest that we were trying to stop science there.

I wrote an article about the ELA closure back in 2012. And so I heard Goodyear on the subject and new none of what he said was true. But I fired off an email to one of my sources for that article, Britt Hall, a biologist with the University of Regina who has done a lot of her mercury research at the ELA, and I asked her what she thought of Goodyear’s version of the ELA story. Here’s how she responded.

Two buildings at the ELA site that government workers had started to demolish after the closure order in 2012.

Two cabins at the ELA site that DFO workers demolished after the closure order in 2012.

Hall: The [ELA] employees were told explicitly that the facility would be closing at the end of the fiscal year. External researchers were told to make other arrangements for our research. DFO demolished two cabins [pictured at right]. We were denied access to the site during this time (about a year). No transitional funds were available for a new operator. All of this is evidence in my mind that they did not want to transfer the ELA to anyone UNTIL they realized what a colossal mistake this was going to cost the spin machine. At that point they started to discuss a transfer.

There was no plan. When we spoke to the civil servants charged with this file it was clear that they didn’t understand the ELA at all, not the importance or the way it functioned. Even after they said they wanted to transfer, they still demolished buildings and denied access. We didn’t trust them as far as we could throw them and we had to be relentless in keeping the issue in the public eye. The clean up has just been finished at a cost in excess of $1M, way less than it could have (they got lucky with a local contractor). The employees were given jobs that they couldn’t turn down because if they did they lost the severance pay, preventing them from moving over to the new operator, if they truly wanted to transfer, they would have given employees time to wait until the transition happened but they forced them to choose.

In other words, not only did the Conservatives not have a plan to transfer the facility, they didn’t even know what they were doing when they planned to shut it down. They just cut the funds and expected to walk away from it.

This matches up with what former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, has discovered about Harper’s austerity budget of 2012: cuts were made with little planning, without proper program reviews and with slapdash reporting of impacts. (That iPolitics article I link to about Page’s findings is essential reading and a seriously damning indictment of the Harper Government’s competence.)

Also alarming is Goodyear’s reference to how the DFO is up at the ELA right now cleaning up contamination, as if the scientists who use the facility had somehow wrecked it and now it needed the government to step in if it’s to be a useful facility into the future. It shows a shocking lack of understanding about how science works at the ELA.

Britt Hall explains:

Hall: The lakes recover on their own, that is one of the most useful aspects of the science at ELA. We study what happens when a stressor like pollution is added to the lake and then we stop adding the stressor and find out how long it takes for the lake to recover. The recovery aspect is probably most important because that is what provides hope. The clean up is old equipment left around the lake, I am not aware of a single lake they are cleaning up, just the areas around old experiments.

So there you go. Goodyear’s an idiot. Or a liar. Or he just doesn’t give a shit.

Hope this info dump arms you with useful talking points to get you through a turkey dinner with your conservative relatives.