December 12, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Winnipeg scientists left their labs Monday to join counterparts in 17 Canadian cities for simultaneous protests against federal budget cuts.
About 200 people attended the noon-hour protest at the University of Winnipeg campus downtown.
Earnest speeches from retired scientists, worried grad students and angry union representatives were punctuated with repeated appearances by the Raging Grannies, the community comedy team with their trademark old-lady hats.
The protests are familiar from a campaign during the last year that succeeded in restoring government funding to experiments by Winnipeg-based scientists at the Experimental Lakes Area, 58 deepwater lakes near Kenora, Ont., that are used for research into phosphates, acid rain and other pollutants.
The nationwide protests Monday were organized by a coalition of scientists, academics, students and supporters banded together under a website called evidencefordemocracy.ca.
Under the banner Stand up for Our Science, the site records cuts to everything from basic science to environmental policies and their impact.
In Ottawa, hundreds of frustrated scientists clad in their white lab coats descended on Parliament Hill to demand the Harper government stop muzzling scientists and cutting research funding.
"What do we want? Evidence-based decision-making!" chanted the protesters as they gathered in the shadow of the Peace Tower, complaining about what they see as the government's efforts to commercialize research.
One Ottawa protester attached a telescope to a bike helmet and carried a sign that read, "Desperately seeking intelligent life on Parliament Hill!"
In Winnipeg, rally spokeswoman Diane Orihel, who led the ELA campaign, said federal budget cuts target science in ways most Canadians aren't aware of.
"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.
Well-publicized cuts to Parks Canada sites such as Riding Mountain National Park cramped campers this fall. Less known are the effects of cuts to the Food Inspection Agency and institutions such as Agriculture Canada's Cereal Research Centre in Manitoba, which is slated for closure in 2014.
Humour directed at the federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the scientists' weapon of choice at the rally.
To the tune of standards such as Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer, do, the Raging Grannies poked fun at the Harper government and drew laughter with lines such as, "It's all so wrong. It won't be long before Harper's gone. What a jerk."
One placard used a pun only a chemist would recognize: "The best way to halt the cuts? Bar-ium," as in bury the Harper government at the next election, a young archeologist explained.
Organizers moved through the crowd, handing out postcards for mail-in protests to the Prime Minister's Office.
The reprieve that saved the Experimental Lakes Area at the 11th hour two weeks ago 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 to believe they weren't just crying in the wilderness. Manitoba is adding another $900,000 over six years.
"The ELA really gave people the confidence and tipped them over the edge. (That) helped make scientists stand up against these cuts," Orihel said.
-- with files from The Canadian Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2013 A4