Lessons from the Lost Patrol

Open Letter #12 to MP Ryan Leef: How time has flown. It seems like yesterday that you debated NDP MP Joe Comartin over the postal strike.

Open Letter #12 to MP Ryan Leef:

How time has flown. It seems like yesterday that you debated NDP MP Joe Comartin over the postal strike. You used the Yukon’s Lost Patrol as an example of unselfish dedication to duty.

You said: “They were not battling pensions. They were not worrying about wages. They were doing this because they understood how important commerce and communications was to the North and to the people of Canada.”

Luckily for you, Mr. Comartin didn’t know that the Lost Patrol failed to deliver the mail and themselves.

As you may recall, the four members of the RCMP, known as the Lost Patrol, were ordered to deliver mail and dispatches to Dawson City from Fort McPherson in December 1910.

The first leg of the journey, familiar ground, was uneventful. The second leg went smoothly after getting help from Esau George, a native guide. Confident that they could do the rest of the journey without expert advice, they told Mr. George he could return to his family.

The men of the Lost Patrol didn’t make it to Dawson City. They got lost. They turned back but they never made it. One constable shot himself. The remainder died of exposure and starvation.

This leads me to the subject of this 12th letter, how dangerous overconfidence has led the Conservative government to cripple environmental research.

During the same debate, you stated that you “would rather talk from my heart” than discuss “evidence-based solutions.” This attitude appears to be common amongst policy makers in the Conservative government. The recent decision to shut down the Polar Environment Atmosphere Research Laboratory is an example of the Conservative government’s aversion to evidence.

PEARL was the most northerly research facility in the world. It gathered data on air quality, atmospheric chemistry and the ozone layer. It monitored climate change effects. In 2011, it discovered the first hole in the Arctic ozone layer. It was linked with national and international scientific programs.

At a time when climate change research is needed the most, Canadians and the world have lost a vital source of information on the effects of our rapidly changing environment, thereby losing our ability to effectively mitigate the worst affects of these changes.

PEARL is only one of many environmental institutes crippled by the Conservative government in this and past budgets. The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences has been limping along on less than half of its former budget since cuts in 2010. At the time, former Environment minister Jim Prentice said that its work could be carried on by other organizations. About 1,400 scientific researchers wrote the government stating that cuts to CFCA were unwise and that there wasn’t enough funding elsewhere to do the necessary research.

Can you tell me what publicly funded organizations are currently studying climate change in Canada? Do you believe they will be able to provide the guidance and advice that we need?

It is surprising that commerce hasn’t raised objections to the shutting down of PEARL and other reductions to environmental science programs and jobs. Agriculture, fisheries, forestry, insurance companies and even the fossil fuel energy sector, ever reluctant to publicly acknowledge its role in climate change, would benefit from evidence-based solutions resulting from research conducted in laboratories such as PEARL.

The International Energy Agency has said that if we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in four years, it will be impossible to hold global warming to safe levels. We are already seeing some of the climate-carbon cycle feedback events happening as the permafrost melts and the greenhouse gases locked up in ice are released, as reported by American scientists. And here we are, fumbling in the dark with no idea what to expect because the few Canadian scientists who still have jobs are forbidden to tell us the nature of their discoveries.

Are members of the Conservative government so confident of their evidence-free environmental policies that they are willing to gamble the future well-being of their own children and grandchildren? A vision fills my imagination – Conservatives running blindfolded towards a cliff with hands held firmly over their ears all the while singing “la, la, la,” deaf to warning shouts. In this otherwise satisfying fantasy, the rest of us are bound to these fools and are also being dragged to our deaths.

With climate change, we are entering uncharted territory. We have no maps. We should take expert guides, don’t you think?

May your time in Ottawa be constructive and may you always walk on the high road.

Linda Leon

Whitehorse