B.C. Government Scientists Warn That Staff Cutbacks Threaten Proper Oversight of Key Resources and Public Health and Safety

VICTORIA, BC–(Marketwired – April 06, 2017) – A strong majority of scientists and other experts who work for the B.C. provincial government say cutbacks in their numbers since 2001, when the Liberals were elected to power, have undermined their ability to produce expert reports and documents. Most also feel that there are now insufficient resources to effectively fulfill their branch or ministerial mandate.

A report released today by Evidence for Democracy (E4D), a not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of science-based evidence in government decision-making in Canada, points out that since 2001, B.C.’s public service has been reduced to the smallest per capita in Canada. Departments with science-based mandates have lost 25 per cent of staff-scientists and licensed-expert positions in the past decade.

And almost half (49 per cent) of the scientists and experts surveyed by the researchers feel that political interference is compromising their ministry’s ability to develop laws, policies and programs based on scientific evidence.

Scott McCannell, Executive Director of the Professional Employees Association (PEA), which supported E4D’s research, says every British Columbian should be concerned by the report’s findings.

“This goes far deeper than just a cut in public service jobs,” he says. “These Government Licensed Science Officers are professionally trained and accredited experts and scientists including foresters, engineers, agrologists, geoscientists, veterinarians, psychologists, physiotherapists and pharmacists.

“They provide the provincial government with advice, guidance, research, monitoring and review services to help ensure the efficient and effective management, utilization and oversight of B.C.’s natural resources such as forests and water, infrastructure such as bridges, the safety of the food that’s farmed in the province, and even some aspects of health care services.”

McCannell says reducing the number of scientists and other experts in the public service is a threat to the province’s natural resource-dependent economy, the environment and to the well-being of all British Columbians.

He adds that the cutbacks mean that much of the work they were doing has been reduced, discontinued or contracted out to the private sector.

“The consequences can be dire as evidenced by the Mt. Polley mine disaster in 2014. A report on the incident by the Auditor General pointed to the lack of a compliance and enforcement culture within the Ministry of Energy and Mines, an overreliance on external qualified professionals, and subsequent lack of oversight, and too few annual inspections by the Ministry.

“We need to avoid the next Mt. Polley by acting now to reverse the situation and restore the level of oversight and protection that British Columbians deserve and expect from their government,” says McCannell.

The full report can be accessed here.

About the PEA

The Professional Employees Association is a labour union representing 2500 professionals in British Columbia, including over roughly 1150 Government Licensed Science Officers working for the province of British Columbia.

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