BC Election: Where do the parties stand on science?

The BC Liberals, NDP, and Green Party respond to questions about science, the environment, and other issues.

 

BC Coast

Earlier this year, the Professional Employee's Association (PEA) sent a series of seven questions to each of the major parties in British Columbia.  The survey covered a range of subjects, including the role of science in government, climate change and the environment, and how to increase the health and prosperity of British Columbians.

The last question, asking about the use of professional reliance in government decision making, is of particular interest to us, and the full responses to this question from the Liberal, NDP, and Green parties are listed below. The Liberal and NDP parties both issued one response for their slate of candidates, while four Green candidates responded individually.  The complete survey questions and responses are available under the heading "Hear from the Candidates" on PEA's election page.  

Check out our report on science integrity in British Columbia published in early April.

 

Q: Numerous watchdog agencies have pointed out deficiencies with the current professional reliance model. Since 2001, more than 25 per cent of licensed science officer positions in BC’s public service have been eliminated. What would your government ‘do to address these deficiencies’ and restore the positions? 

 

Liberal Party A:

"British Columbia has clear, rigorous environmental standards, ensuring decisions are made consistently and fairly to balance the needs of industry while protecting our environment.   It is critical that this process not be subjected to political interference. Information provided by Qualified Professionals is taken into account by independent decision makers, but to be clear, final permitting decisions in BC are made by the technical experts in the BC government.

Overall, the ratio of PEA professionals in the BC Public Service has remained roughly consistent since 2001. The number and types of professionals government employs is guided by the human resources needs flowing from Ministry Service Plans. This ensures government employs the resources it needs and taxpayers receive the best value for their money. Today’s BC Liberals will continue to maintain appropriate staffing levels and employ those individuals with the skills needed to effectively deliver the programs and services British Columbians rely on."

 

NDP A:

"Without an adequate complement of professional scientists and accredited experts in the provincial public service, some of BC’s greatest assets – our land base, water, and capital infrastructure – are put at extreme risk. Insufficient in-house expertise has compromised the provincial government’s ability to fulfill critical statutory obligations involving oversight, informed risk management, monitoring, and enforcement. The Mount Polley disaster is an illustrative case study of the consequences of losing such professional capacity, one that must never be repeated again. Similarly, scientists and professional experts are essential for government to make evidence based policy decisions that advance the public interest.

While reducing capacity in areas of oversight and evidence based decision making, the Liberals have spent considerable public resources towards partisan advertising and public relations. In addition to prohibiting the use of tax dollars for political self-promotion through legislation, the NDP if elected intends to review the government’s public relations arm, with an eye towards reallocating resources towards core government functions like managing and protecting our land base, waterways, capital infrastructure, and setting public policies and frameworks based on sound evidence.  Our plans to reform and revitalize the environmental assessment process and modernize land use planning with a robust scientific, evidence based approach will require ensuring respective ministries have sufficient in-house professional expertise. We also intend to improve and increase oversight of the mining sector, and to renew our forests, measures that will involve recruiting and retaining scientific officers and professionals."

 

Green Party As:

"The BC Greens recognize that this is a significant problem, unlike the current government. Prior to the Liberals assuming power, the Province would use its own staff to assess the environmental risks of proposed development. The use of qualified professionals is creating a huge mistrust in the process. Whenever the government hands over the environmental assessment to these consultants hired by the proponent/applicant, it ultimately results in a situation where industry polices itself. The practice results in conflicts of interest that government often ignores and encourages, and an erosion of expertise in the professional public service. An extensive review of professional reliance by UVic’s Environmental Law Center found that professional reliance was undermining the public interest and frequently becomes a rationale for less scrutiny by government of material submitted by proponents. The BC Ombudsperson reviewed the model in 2014 and concluded that “the potential for administrative unfairness arises when there is inadequate government oversight of private professionals and project proponents, and the level of public accountability for their actions and decisions falls below acceptable standards”. One only has to look to examples such as the Shawnigan Lake contaminated soil deposit site, the Mt. Polley copper mine and the Stanhope Dairy Farm composting facility.

Unlike the BC Liberals, the BC Greens have recognized the professional reliance model is completely inadequate for environmental protection and community safety, and is a broken system." -Adam Olsen, candidate for Saanich North and the Islands

 

"While our platform on this issue has not yet been released and I can therefore not offer specifics right now, the BC Green Party and our leader Andrew Weaver have been consistent in our emphasis on evidence-based decision making and ending the professional reliance model. 

In response to the Auditor General's audit report on compliance & enforcement of the mining sector (May 2016), Andrew Weaver issued the following statement: 

“This report provides further evidence that the government has got the balance wrong between protecting the interests of British Columbians and advancing the interests of corporations,” said Weaver. “That the Auditor General would suggest that a Ministry within the government is at risk of regulatory capture is very concerning.”

“It’s hypocritical and frankly paradoxical for the government to dismiss the Auditor General’s concerns that we have become too reliant on experts hired by companies to provide regulatory oversight. On the one hand the government says that qualified professionals have played a role in mining for decades; on the other hand the government also notes that the status quo cannot continue,” said Weaver. “Instead of trying to have it both ways they should be asking the very serious question of whether sufficiently independent reviews, with the resources to the job correctly, are actually taking place. I would suggest they are not.”

“This report emphasizes the need for a review of both Ministry of Energy and Mines and Ministry of Environment permitting processes and enforcement measures.” said Weaver “There is a huge gap in public trust between government and permit holders as is highlighted now in the on-going dispute over the Shawnigan Lake contaminated soil dump site. This issue has forced residents and local governments to use the court system to get results from government. It is imperative that the Auditor General’s recommendations are adopted immediately to begin to repair this relationship.”

I agree with our leader on this." - Donovan Cavers, candidate for Kamloops - South Thompson

 

"The BC Greens are committed to restoring evidence-based decision-making in the province. Under the BC Liberals, partisan appointments, an over reliance on expensive consultants, and systematic cuts to science and technical capacity in the public service, have all eroded public confidence in government. As well, there are too many scientists that work in the public service who are muzzled and can no longer speak truth to power for fear of political reprisals. The Greens will restore funding for science and technical officers so that government cannot meddle with evidence, and draws from the best advice available when making decisions." -Kalen Harris, candidate for Victoria - Beacon Hill

 

"We'd move away from the model of professional reliance and hire more professional for the provincial government." -Andy MacKinnon, candidate for Esquimalt - Metchosin

 

Kathleen Walsh

Director of Policy

Kathleen Walsh brings a strong background in policy advocacy and campaigning to E4D as the organization’s Director of Policy. Kathleen previously served as Interim Executive Director. She has devoted her time to a number of non-profit organizations including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Rideau Institute, Nobel Women’s Initiative, Equal Voice, and Famous 5 Ottawa.