Barbarians in Ottawa

Linda Leon Open letter to MP Ryan Leef: Parroting fossil fuel mandarins, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver insists over and over again, "People need to listen to the facts! And the science!" Actions speak louder than words. Anyone who cares to look

Linda Leon

Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:

Parroting fossil fuel mandarins, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver insists over and over again, “People need to listen to the facts! And the science!”

Actions speak louder than words. Anyone who cares to look can see that the Conservative government has an aversion to facts. As a result of Bill C-38, important scientific laboratories and programs were defunded. Canadian public sector scientists have had their numbers decimated.

Pure science has been abandoned in favour of industrial research, yet another indirect subsidy for the fossil fuel sector. Libraries and Archives Canada have seen crippling budget cuts and the long-form census has been terminated.

Any Canadian not living under a rock knows that the Conservative government has carried out another assault on scientific knowledge. Fisheries and Oceans libraries have been closed down across Canada. We’ve all seen images of dumpsters full of discarded books and reports.

Gail Shea, minister of Fisheries and Oceans, defended this action by saying, “It’s not fair to taxpayers to make them pay for libraries that so few people actually used.”

This an infuriating insult to our intelligence. These libraries existed to support scientific research. They were never public libraries, as Ms. Shea implied.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans claims that there were “no changes to the size or scope of the collection” and that all of the data was digitized. Even if this were true, electronic data can easily be wiped out by accident or design, which makes having hard copies critical.

Despite DFO claims, saving data appears not to be the intention. An internal memo leaked to Postmedia referred to this activity as “culling material.” No mention was made of digitizing documents.

How is this quantity of data being digitized? Only Libraries and Archives have the ability to do this amount of work, and because of their own staff cuts, they are hardly in a position to help.

According to Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents federal scientists, “The people who use this research don’t have any say in what is being saved or tossed aside.”

So who decided what to keep? Was it Ms. Shea? Was it those communications officers who act as ideological gatekeepers?

It certainly wasn’t the scientists who wrote the research documents. Nor was it the scientists who use the data for their own research.

No inventory was kept of discarded material. We have no way of knowing what was lost. According to DFO scientists, who remain understandably anonymous, considerable scientific research data is gone forever.

The federal government claims that the closing of libraries and the dumping of research material is being done to save $2 million a year. This claim is a little specious from a government that spent $2.5 million on misleading ads for the non-existent Canada Jobs Grant – ads that had to be pulled because they contravened truth in advertisement regulations. (The Conservative government spent an additional $52.5 million of public money on other useless ads last year, of which $4 million was spent schilling for the fossil fuel industry and a whopping $16 million on Conservative Party propaganda thinly disguised as Economic Action Plan ads.)

Attacks on knowledge have a long and disgraceful history. The Spanish conquistadors burned the Aztec codices. The Crusaders destroyed the library at Constantinople. That is what you do when you are conducting an invasion; wipe the plate clean so you can install your own ideology.

In 1933, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels orchestrated a nationwide raid on libraries and held bonfires everywhere in Nazi Germany. Books that weren’t “on message” were burned.

Often the destruction of knowledge is collateral damage during regime change. When the barbarians sacked Rome, they probably didn’t intend to destroy technological knowledge. But, because of their vandalism, it was 14 centuries before modern sewage systems and flush toilets were finally reinvented.

Barbarians have a lot to answer for.

The junking of scientific data contained within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries is just one more act of ideological vandalism by the Conservative government. The barbarians are through the gates and are entrenched in Ottawa.

Linda Leon is a

Whitehorse freelance writer.

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