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ELA to be sold off to “client-friendly” buyer with no scientific expertise?

Ottawa – Yesterday, an article in iPolitics reported the federal government is in negotiations with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) to sell off Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). The Coalition to Save ELA and the Council of Canadians are denouncing the secretive and undemocratic process under which the federal government is selling a world-class freshwater research facility – paid for by Canadian taxpayers’ dollars – to a policy institution funded by government and industry.

“The ELA must remain a public science program under the purview of the Government of Canada. Handing over the ELA to the IISD is an unacceptable option,” insists Diane Orihel, the Director of the Coalition to Save ELA. “Unless the facility remains funded by the government and staffed by public-service scientists, its research priorities will cease to reflect public policy priorities or serve the public interest.”

“We are very concerned about the lack of transparency and opportunity for public scrutiny in planning the future of ELA,” said Orihel. “But most importantly, we question the autonomy of the science and independence of the scientists – either real or perceived – under a government- and industry-funded organization that needs to be ‘client-friendly’ to cover its bottom line.”

While the Coalition acknowledges the IISD as a leading policy institute, they warn this organization does not have the expertise to continue ELA’s ecosystem-scale experimental research.

“The IISD is not qualified on a scientific basis to run ELA,” assessed Dr. John Rudd, former DFO Research Scientist (1977-2002), ELA Chief Scientist (1998-2002), and winner of DFO’s most prestigious award, the Deputy Minister’s Prix d’Excellence (2002). “ELA is a unique facility and its scientific research needs to be directed by scientists who know how to do these experiments, but unfortunately, almost all present and recently retired scientists have been cut out of the transfer process.”

Furthermore, the Council of Canadians warns that the IISD is not an acceptable institution to run ELA because of its deep ties to the very industries whose environmental impacts ELA must be able to investigate, independent of any interference or influence.

“Selling off the ELA to the IISD is not even remotely appropriate, given its energy and mining funders and members,” said Maude Barlow, noting the IISD receives funding from Enbridge, Suncor, Alcan, Investors Group, World Bank, HSBC Bank of Canada, International Council of Mining and Minerals, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. “It would be impossible for the ELA to put out independent assessments of the impact of these sectors on Canada's water under the auspices of the IISD, an organization that questions the internationally recognized human right to water.”

“In a world running out of clean water, the ELA must stay in public hands and it is the federal government’s responsibility to oversee the protection of Canada's freshwater heritage,” said Barlow. “The IISD’s support for the “strategic alliance” between CIDA, mining companies, and NGOs illustrates how little concern it has about the impacts of industry on human rights and the environment.”

An Environics Research poll commissioned last month by the Council of Canadians showed that 60% of Conservative voters oppose the cancellation of federal funding for ELA. Overall, 73% of Canadians oppose the cutting of funding for the Experimental Lakes Area, with 42% strongly opposed to the cuts.

“The public should not be fooled by what is really happening: the Harper Government is cutting the ELA, yet another public science program – and its scientists – that work to understand and mitigate the impacts of industry on our environment,” said Orihel. “We have money for economic action plan ads, F-35 fighter jets, and fake lakes for photo ops, but the federal government claims not to have $2 million per year to fund ELA – an invaluable investment to sustain the health of Canada’s freshwaters and fisheries?”

Last week, the Coalition to Save ELA wrote an open letter to Minister Kent asking for the federal department of Environment to take over the operation of the ELA research center and its freshwater scientists. ELA research is perfectly aligned with Environment Canada’s highest priorities, and is an ideal research platform for investigating the impacts of Alberta’s oil sands developments. The Coalition requested a meeting with Minister Kent, and to date, the Minister has not responded.

VIDEO: ‘Stop the War on Science – Save the Experimental Lakes Area'