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NEWS: Harper cuts hinder ozone, tar sands and water monitoring programs

CBC reports, “International scientists (including the Swiss chair of the World Meteorological Organization’s ozone science advisory group) are expressing concern that cuts at Environment Canada could hobble a program monitoring ozone, a component of the atmosphere that protects living things from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.”

“(The Harper government plans to shut down) a network of 17 ozone monitoring stations across the country that take balloon-based measurements of the atmosphere (and) the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre, the international database that makes archived ozone data from around the world available to scientists. …In August, Environment Canada informed the union, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, that it planned to eliminate around 700 positions, though it said roughly 300 of the affected people would be offered positions elsewhere in the government. Gary Corbett, president of the union representing the scientists, said the union has reviewed the list of people affected. ‘We note that the key scientists who are involved in the ozone program are on that list,’ he said. …Most staff in the ozone group, including the program leader, received letters from the department informing them that their job functions will cease. The person in charge of the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre received a similar letter.”

“Michel Bourqui, an atmospheric scientist at McGill University in Montreal, said no other source of data exists that could replace the balloon measurements. ‘This network is the only source of measurements of ozone, detailed measurements of ozone through Canada for the first 20 to 30 kilometres of the atmosphere,’ he said. …(Dalhousie University atmospheric scientist Tom) Duck said the government’s recently expanded oilsands monitoring program was also going to rely on some of the ozone measurements. ‘Its surprising that they would announce a program to monitor oilsands, but at same time be gutting Environment Canada of the capability to implement it.’ He noted that staff cuts at Environment Canada will also affect a large number of other environment monitoring programs, including the solar radiation program that also feeds into the UV index, aircraft measurements of the atmosphere that were also to be used in oilsands monitoring, and a program to look at toxic substances such as pesticides in the atmosphere.”

The Dalhousie atmospheric scientist commented, “This is kind of like taking the batteries out of your smoke detector.”

“When asked to confirm or deny the cuts, Environment Canada said in a statement emailed to CBC News that all government programs are reviewed regularly to ensure ‘they are effective and efficient, respond to the priorities of Canadians and are in line with core federal responsibilities.’ It added that programs that fail those tests are ‘adjusted’ or have their funding reallocated. ‘At this time, we are not in a position to identify, which specific programs will be subject to adjustments or reallocated funding,’ it added. …On Friday, Environment Canada spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman sent another email specifying that ‘nothing has been cut. We are optimizing and streamlining the way we monitor and measure ozone.'”

“The cuts come just one year before Canada is set to host an international meeting of ozone scientists that takes place every four years.” Though the article doesn’t specify, this presumably is the International Ozone Commission 2012 Quadrennial Ozone Symposium on August 26-31 in Toronto.

In early-July, the Council of Canadians led a campaign in which 50 civil society organizations sent a letter to the Prime Minister decrying the cuts to Environment Canada and outlining serious concerns about the impacts the cuts will have on water. According an Environment Canada report, funding for the Action Plan on Clean Water and the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan will be reduced. The Action Plan includes facets of the Oceans Action Plan, the Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nations Communities, clean-up funding for water bodies, wastewater regulations and water science. These cuts could significantly hinder Canada’s ability to fulfill their legal obligation on the right to water. More on that at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9838.