Union bolsters democracy by securing new rights for scientists: Editorial

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In July of 2012 more than 2,000 scientists staged a mock funeral on Parliament Hill. They were mourning the fact that since 2006, when Stephen Harper’s government was first elected, scientists and science across the country had been under attack.Harper’s war on science was so aggressive that by 2015, Evidence for Democracy, a not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making, estimated that up to 5,000 federal scientist had lost their jobs and more than 250 research and monitoring programs and institutions had been shuttered. The scientists who clung to their jobs were muzzled. It was so bad that one of the contract demands made by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada was that scientists they represent would be allowed to speak openly about their work, publish results without fear of censorship, and travel abroad to collaborate with their peers. As the Star put it then, it was as if it was 1615 rather than 2015.Happily, this past week the union announced it had reached a tentative contract that gives federal scientists the right to share their research with the media without first being designated as official spokespeople. Article Continued BelowThat is a victory not just for the union, but for good governance and a healthy democracy. As Margrit Eichler of the campaign group Scientists for the Right to Know put it in 2015, “Good policies must be based on solid evidence. Democracy requires an informed electorate.” It wasn’t just Canadians who were affected by the silencing of our scientists and shuttering of research institutions. The world was missing out on Canada’s important scientific input. Indeed, during the Harper years, the New York Times, Nature magazine, the Guardian and the Economist all wrote critical articles pleading for our scientists to be set free.

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