House of Commons Debates, 41st Parl, 1st Sess, No 254 (23 May 2013) at 16958.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to follow up on a question I raised on May 10 regarding the dismissal of 100 or so workers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, including many lab employees. According to the most recent union data, 700 employees at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada received work force adjustment notices, meaning that they were told that their services may no longer be required.
Most of the job cuts are at the science and technology branch and the market and industry services branch. Notice was given to 79 scientists, 29 engineers and 14 biologists. Clearly, these cuts will have a significant impact on the department’s scientific work. As the union president said, these cuts threaten our international competitiveness and directly impact one of Canada’s key economic activities: food production.
In 2012, 150 members of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada received a work force adjustment notice. Last year, nine experimental farms in Canada had to shut down because of the Conservatives’ irrational budget cuts.
One particular example comes to mind, and that is the disastrous closure of the experimental farm in Frelighsburg, Quebec. That institution had been in existence for more than 40 years. It worked on important research on plant diseases, insects and genetic improvement of apple trees.
This example shows that, contrary to what the Conservatives claim, cutting funding for science does have repercussions. In the case of the Frelighsburg farm, permanent jobs and a number of student jobs were eliminated. But most importantly, we lost 40 years of scientific data and we are compromising the future of an important agricultural sector. The Conservatives do not understand this.
These massive cuts began in 2012, and it is now obvious that scientists are being targeted. A simple calculation is proof enough. The government announced that it would eliminate a total of 19,200 positions, or 7% of public service jobs. When the cuts were announced, the Professional Institute of the Public Service represented 17,000 scientists. Of these, 11% received layoff notices. As we can see, scientific positions are overrepresented in the layoffs. It is obvious that the Conservative government is using the cuts as an excuse to get rid of researchers.
We know that these ideological cuts to science stem from the Conservatives’ sheer ignorance of and contempt for research. I would just like to share an anecdote that perfectly illustrates this contempt.
Last week, the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec was visiting the Quebec Metallurgy Centre and said: “Instead of funding researchers who discover nothing, I prefer to fund discoverers.” That is ridiculous.
According to the minister’s logic, were Agriculture and Agri-food Canada scientists let go because they discover nothing? Do NRC researchers doing basic research not deserve funding because their research does not have immediate industrial applications? The minister’s logic is ridiculous.
I am waiting for this government’s response. When will this government admit that its short-term vision is compromising our future?
Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege of working with some of the top academic researchers in this country for the better part of my career. Working in the field of research administration, if there is one thing I can tell members personally it is the effect that our government’s commitment to science and technology funding has had on the academic community across Canada.
The one thing that my colleague opposite did not mention tonight was the level of funding for tri-council research that has occurred during our government’s mandate. If she had done any research whatsoever, she would have looked into the last six years’ budgets and seen that year over year the amount of money we have put into tri-council research has increased over time.
What does this mean? This means that funding for basic research, not only in science and engineering or in the health sciences through CIHR but also in science and social sciences, has increased over time. This means that this particular research can be translated into commercializable technologies. It can also be translated into social policy, and it can be translated into training highly qualified personnel for the jobs Canada needs to have in the future.
Not only are we funding research through tri-council agencies, but we are also funding research through the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Not once in my colleague’s speech did she acknowledge that the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which does a wonderful job of providing Canada’s academic researchers with basic research infrastructure funding, also ensures that Canada’s researchers have the bricks and mortar funding they need to ensure that their research programs continue long into the future.
It has been under our government’s tenure that we have seen increases in all of these agencies. What is the NDP’s record on these funding increases? The New Democrats voted against this time after time.
When my colleague the Minister of State for Science and Technology stands up in this House time after time to remind my colleague opposite that the one thing she needs to do to continue the excellent track record of our government’s funding for basic research is to vote in favour of our government’s budget, what does she do? She stands up and does not even talk about any of the funding we have put into these research agencies. Not one agency did she talk about tonight. She did not talk about any of the research outcomes that happen at the research infrastructure within her city, within McGill University.
I have a great colleague with whom I used to work, who is the now the vice-president of research at McGill University and who understands the impact of tri-council funding on her institution’s research administration. I wish my colleague opposite would take five minutes to look at our federal budget year after year to see these funding increases before she speaks out against this excellent track record that our government has for basic research funding. Between the CIHR, SSHRC, NSERC and CFI, our government has a wonderful track record of supporting basic research, supporting research that translates into commercial outcomes and supporting research that translates into social policy. I certainly hope that for once she will actually get on board.
Mr. Speaker, her answer is in no way relevant to my question, but I will let it pass, since I am sure she was not really listening to what I was saying anyway.
She talked about this government’s so-called support for basic research. I can only surmise that she was not aware of her government’s recent revamping of the National Research Council. Perhaps she should do her homework before speaking on the subject in the House. As usual, this government’s decisions are not based either on science or on facts.
Did the government carry out an impact study before sending 700 workforce adjustment notices to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada employees? What impact will these cuts have on economic activity in the agri-food industry? Can he assure us that the food Canadians eat will be safe? The answer to all of these questions is no, because no studies were done.
This is how the government typically does its job. There were no studies, and the cuts will have a tremendous impact on everybody, but the government does not care.
Mr. Speaker, when we talk about examples of program funding, I am not sure my colleague opposite could stand up and name one research program that is managed by the NRC right now. I am not sure she could talk about any of the increases to funding that our government has provided to the National Research Council under our government’s mandate. I am not sure she could talk about any of the commercialized technologies we have seen through the NRC’s funding mandate under our government.
I am sure what she could talk about, though, is the fact that time and again her personal voting record has been against research funding, which we have put to the NRC, to SSHRC, to CIHR and to NSERC. I would love to continue this debate with her, specifically about research programs at McGill University, which I am sure I as a Calgary MP could speak to far better than she right now. Not one research program did she admit voting against in our budget.
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