Dozens of people in Winnipeg joined scientists in 17 Canadian cities in simultaneous protests today against "the erosion of science" in Canada.
The latest in a series of protests in Winnipeg drew an initial crowd of about 100 mostly students, but that number doubled as the noon-hour rally wrapped up at the University of Winnipeg downtown campus.
Earnest speeches from retired scientists, worried grad students and angry union members were delivered to raise awareness of what organizers say is the federal government’s lack of support for science projects across the country.
The impact is broad, organizers say, with food inspectors going home at night worried cutbacks leave food safety in thehands of industy, and the closure of institutes such as Agriculture Canada's Cereal Research Centre in Manitoba threatening to unravel the country's record of superior wheat crops.
Union representatives told the Winnipeg crowd that science programs and institutions have been cut, outsourced and downsized under federal policies, environmental laws have been dismantled and federal scientists have been muzzled.
Winnipeg scientist Diane Orihel said while the cuts have impacts on everything from food safety to environmental protection, most people aren’t aware of them.
"This is a political decision that is not in the interests of Canadians. Science is inherently apolitical and non-partisan. However because scientists can see the implications of these decisions on the health and well-being of Canadians, we are willing to step out of our labs and be a voice for science today. It’s really death by a thousand cuts," Orihel said.
The protests are similar to a campaign over the last year or more that succeeded in saving the Experimental Lakes Area. Ontario and Manitoba stepped up to replace the $2 million in annual operating costs that Ottawa dropped.
However that reprieve did nothing to still the anger of scientists against federal budget cuts, Orihel said.
Ontario’s decision to step up and take over the $2 million budget cut and keep the internationally recognized site open one more season encouraged scientists they weren’t just crying in the wilderness. Manitoba is also adding another $900,000 over six years.
"The ELA really gave people the confidence and tipped them over the edge and helped make scientists stand up against these cuts," Orihel said.