The cancellation of the Experimental Lakes Program and the Harper approach to climate change has generated a lot of talk about whether Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are anti-evidence and anti-science.
They are “anti” looking for problems they do not want to fix, but they are not anti-science. Irrespective of what you think of Harper, he has made some tough decisions on government-funded science that have been needed for years, and will help address a critical and chronic problem Canada has in converting R&D to commercial benefit. Restructuring the National Research Council, while tough on some bureaucrats, will position Canada better in a technology driven global economy. I wish he was more generous with environmental technology (for their commercial potential that he is missing) but his choices are not bad (eg genomics).
This said, the anti-science claim does have merit. Harper is ruthless in shutting down science that risks finding problems he does not want to address.
There is a belief in right wing politics – if you fund environmental science you will find problems you don’t want to find – the best way to fix air and water pollution is to stop looking for it.
The reason Harper is defunding experimental lakes, climate science and a range of other environmental and fisheries science is that he just does not want to address problems he knows will be found.
This head-in-sand mentality is indefensible. It makes him look backward in comparison to more enlightened world leaders who are prepared to address environmental challenges on the facts – the science. They accept the science and they have adult conversations on the economic and social trade-offs required to address them. To be clear, this may lead to decisions to do nothing, because the costs or the disruption is too great. But they are honest discussions based on real information and tradeoffs.
So Harper’s record on science? He is certainly not anti science or evidence. He uses both extensively when there is an issue he wants to address. What Harper has shown, however, is that he will use any tactics necessary, no matter how dishonest of manipulative, to avoid dealing with issues his base doesn’t want him to deal with. The environment is, unfortunately, one of the victims of this politicization.