Muzzling allegations are “absolutely ridiculous” says Canadian environment minister

The words "climate change" are sometimes hard to find in the Harper government's published material.

The words “climate change” are sometimes hard to find in the Harper government’s published material.

 

OTTAWA-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is describing fresh allegations of muzzling as “absolutely ridiculous.”

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq rejected criticism from opposition New Democratic Party MP Megan Leslie who said the government “will stop at nothing to hide the consequences of climate change.”

Leslie raised the issue in the Canadian House of Commons following comments from Environment Canada explaining that its meteorologists were not supposed to talk about climate change in media interviews.

“Climate change is real,” said Leslie, the NDP’s environment critic and deputy leader. “While media cannot contact most government scientists, it does have 24-hour-a-day access to meteorologists. Yet draconian government rules and fear of losing their jobs puts a gag on these meteorologists. They are avoiding talking about the crucial and scientific connection between weather patterns and climate change.”

Some recently-released quotes from a union survey included comments from a meteorologist who expressed concerns about publicly speaking about climate change and described it as a “career-limiting move.”

Leslie asked when Harper would “acknowledge that climate change is real and stop muzzling scientists.” But in response, Aglukkaq sidestepped the question and instead attacked the opposition party.

“That is absolutely ridiculous,” Aglukkaq told the Commons. “Unlike the other side, I have chosen not to play politics with this when it comes to protecting the environment. I regularly meet with Canadians across the country to speak to them about the priorities of our government, which are important to them as well. On the other hand, the opposition will continue to play politics with this issue.”

In an interview, Ted Hsu, the science and technology critic for the opposition Liberal party, criticized the government for allegedly muzzling its scientists, but said he was comfortable with some restrictions on meteorologists.

“I would not mind if meteorologists were told not to talk about climate science as long as climate scientists were allowed to talk about climate science,” said Hsu. “Because of cases of well-known climate deniers who are meteorologists in the United States, I’m sympathetic to the idea that climate scientists are the ones who should be asked for a more authoritative answer about whether a particular extreme weather event is more or less likely to happen with or without global warming.”

Internally, Environment Canada had observed an 80 per cent drop in media coverage of climate change issues in the country after it adopted new restrictive communications policies in 2007 that required scientists to seek permission from management prior to giving interviews about their research.

“I think I feel comfortable saying that if we (Liberals) were in government now, I would allow scientists to speak freely about their research and just completely change the communications policy.” – Ted Hsu, Liberal science and technology critic.

Both the NDP and Liberals have proposed to end what they describe as muzzling of scientists.

“I think I feel comfortable saying that if we (Liberals) were in government now, I would allow scientists to speak freely about their research and just completely change the communications policy,” Hsu said.

Hsu recently received a government response to written questions he submitted in Parliament asking multiple departments for statistics on interviews with scientists and records about their communications policies. But he said he was surprised that none of these departments claimed to have any documents explaining instructions given by their ministers.

“It’s very frustrating,” Hsu said. “You can’t really say the government is transparent when you don’t know what instructions the ministers gave to their departments. So how do I know if the minister is giving good directions or bad directions or whether the department is doing a good job or bad job? … It seems wrong to me that I can’t know what the minister did or what instructions the minister gave.”

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