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Report lists top scientists who lost jobs due to federal cuts

Canada's largest union representing scientists and professional public employees now estimates that between 2013 and 2016, $2.6 billion and 5,064 jobs will be cut from 10 science-based federal departments.

A new report by the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), "Vanishing Science," catalogues cuts to science programs, budgets and staff by the government.

"The Harper government's efforts to balance the federal budget in time for the 2015 election is being built on deep, unpopular cuts to public science that put at risk Canadians' health, safety and the environment," said PIPSC president Debi Daviau in a press release.

"These are not cuts to 'back office operations,' as the finance minister described them in 2012 -- not unless by 'back office' he means Canada's natural environment, air and water quality, the survival of other species, and the health and safety of all Canadians."

In addition to nearly two dozen federal library closures, the federal government has axed various Canadian environmental programs, including the Experimental Lakes Area (it lead the world in correcting freshwater pollution), the Hazardous Information Review Commission (it protected the right of employers and workers to be informed about the chemical materials that might pose health and safety hazards), and the Ocean Contaminants and Marine Toxicology Program.

Budgets for Environment Canada, for example, have been cut by $125 million, or 17.5 per cent.

Thousands of federal scientists that once inspected meat, studied vaccines, measured climate change or monitored losses in ocean diversity have been axed from federal payrolls.

"Vanishing Science" chronicles the disappearance of many of these federal agencies and scientists. Which got the shaft? Here's a partial list, as detailed by the report:

"[Cuts] include the loss of leading experts in their fields such as Dr. Michael Arts, an international authority at Environment Canada on the health of aquatic ecosystems. (The elimination of Dr. Arts' position prompted 90 internationally renowned scientists, including members of the Royal Society of Canada, to write letters of protest to the government.)

"Dr. Kenneth C. Johnson, a senior epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), was the only remaining scientist at PHAC or Health Canada whose work focused directly on the study of tobacco and cancer, specifically the connection between second-hand smoke and breast cancer.

"Dr. Phil Burton, a research scientist and manager of Northern Projects for the Pacific Forestry Centre (PFC) of the Canadian Forest Service, played a vital role in assessing the impact of the Mountain Pine Beetle and, before his departure in 2012, Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

"Jean-Pierre Gagnon was an engineer with the federal government for 32 years -- 23 of them spent at Transport Canada -- and one of North America's leading experts on train cars carrying dangerous goods, including the DOT-111 rail tank cars at the centre of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy on July 6, 2013. Over a year earlier, in April 2012, he received notice that his position would be affected by workforce adjustment. At the time, he was working on a project reviewing the security and integrity of non-pressurized rail tank cars such as the DOT-111. Shortly before he retired from the public service in March 2013, he had convened a meeting with industry on the safety of the DOT-111 cars.

"The cuts have also contributed in their way to Canada's science brain drain. Dr. Kenneth Lee, who before receiving an 'affected' notice in May 2012 enjoyed a 30-year career with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was director of the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research and the country's foremost oil spill expert. He spent four months in the Gulf of Mexico providing scientific expertise to efforts at containing the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Today, he directs ocean research at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia.

"Many of the cuts have eliminated any hope -- at least for the foreseeable future -- of policies based on evidence. The loss of Statistics Canada's mandatory long-form census in 2010 and the Health Canada-funded First Nations Statistical Institute in 2012 (the only comprehensive attempt to assess data on educational, social housing and labour force needs among First Nations communities) are just two examples."

Award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk writes about energy for The Tyee and others.

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