The Dryden Observer

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Assets or liabilities?

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

A photocopy of a Kenora Conservative Association letter to its membership found its way onto our desk — the addressee’s name carefully concealed.

The 150 words or so sent chills down our spines.

Penned by the organization’s president Anne Ayotte, the letter is a call for donations to battle ‘radical ideologues’ at the Toronto Star ‘who have led a campaign of misinformation about Greg’s work to protect the Experimental Lakes Area’.

The Conservative narrative itself is not surprising. What is disturbing is the absence of the ‘ol wink, wink, nudge, nudge — the extension of political theatre into party communications where it becomes delusion.

MP Rickford can tout his disputed role as the saviour of the ELA all he wants — all that really matters is the position of the government he represents. A government who, despite international condemnation, no longer saw it within their mandate to continue funding the world’s most unique and productive site for freshwater scientific research despite 40 years of remarkable discoveries that have guided global environmental legislation.

Since weathering that storm, the duly elected Member of Parliament for the Kenora Riding has been installed in the unenviable position of accounting for what is widely perceived to be the Harper Government’s deteriorating relationship with the nation’s scientists.

How widely perceived?

The Toronto Star is only the beginning. Editorials in both this week’s New York Times Sunday edition and the UK’s Guardian newspaper both zeroed in on the Harper government’s motives behind re-tasking research with a focus on industry, barring scientists from discussing findings with journalists or publishing their results in academic journals.

That’s two of the world’s most respected newsgathering organizations who have raised alarming questions about the Canadian government’s efforts to control information they may deem politically damaging. It is indeed worrisome to the democratic world at large to see a nation treat what most would consider it’s brightest assets as threats to a ruling party’s yet-to-be realized vision for Canada.

University of Ottawa’s Dr. Jeremy Kerr says the Conservative government’s recently imposed restrictive policies at the National Research Council have led to an 80 per cent decrease in scientific peer-reviewed publications and a 95 per cent drop in the patent rate — from 53 in 2006 to just three in 2012.

When asked by the CBC whether or not scientists were allowed to use the word ‘carbon’ in interviews, our MP Rickford called Jeremy Kerr a conspiracy theorist.

I used to reconcile this kind of behaviour by viewing it as a form of political theatre employed as a technique to avoid answering questions. I take solace in the belief that politicians say these kinds of things without actually believing them. It’s Canadian politics after all, who cares?

The Kenora Conservative Association’s letter to its membership and Rickford’s own comments of late as Minister of State For Science and Technology are leading me increasingly to think that this camp really does believe that everyone who questions the government’s wisdom is crazy, a partisan opponent, or a ‘radical ideologue’.

That kind of absolutist thinking very well may be the by-product of the indefensible position our MP has been tasked to defend.

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