Gary Goodyear is Canada's Minister of State (Science and Technology). He's also a chiropractor.
Last week he met with two representatives of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). CAUT has a long history of lobbying in favor of increased funding for university research. Apparently the meeting didn't go well [Researchers fear 'stagnation' under Tories].
The screaming erupted last Wednesday afternoon, just down the street from Parliament Hill, in the offices of a Conservative cabinet minister.I don't know what could possibly have gone wrong. Perhaps it was something that Mr. Goodyear said?
Two officials with Canadian Association of University Teachers sat on one side of a boardroom table and on the other sat Gary Goodyear, Minister of Science and Technology, his policy adviser Wesley Moore and a civil servant ready to take notes.
CAUT, a lobby group that represents 65,000 staff at 121 colleges and universities, had planned to raise concerns over the government's handling of research funding. But within moments, it became clear they wouldn't get very far.
“The minister was very angry,” said David Robinson, associate executive director of CAUT. “He was raising his voice and pointing his finger … He said everyone loves their [federal budget] and we said, ‘A lot of our members don't love it'… and he said, ‘That's because you're lying to them, misleading them.'”
The talks, Mr. Robinson said, went from bad to worse. In 15 years on the job, he “never had a meeting like that.”
Mr. Goodyear agrees. “I, too, have never had a meeting like that. It was a unique experience and one I don't care to repeat.”
Mr. Goodyear said he has met university presidents, deans of research, and researchers themselves and believes government critics are few. “You're going to see that one person who didn't get what they wanted,” he said. But “eight out of 10 folks I talk to get it … they are very positive.”Or maybe it had something to with the change in science policy since the Conservatives took over in 2006?
Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., said the government has been steadily investing in science and technology since 2006, with a new emphasis on commercialization and that it has designed an overall strategy to ensure Canada remains a world leader in research.
“We have done everything right,” he said.
After years of double-digit budget increases in the early 2000s, government contributions in recent years to NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR have barely kept pace with inflation – and last year they underwent a government-mandated strategic review to reduce their spending.In any case, it ended badly ...
So while the Barack Obama administration in Washington has added $10-billion (U.S.) to finance basic research in the United States, the three agencies that back basic research in Canada must cut spending by $148-million over the next three years.
CIHR, for example, Canada's main funding body for medical research, has to find about $35-million in savings by 2012, and $28-million of that is by eliminating a program that provided grants to research teams.
CAUT, however, is less confident. It was the position of researchers fretting for the future the lobby group hoped to represent at last week's meeting with Mr. Goodyear.This meeting is more extreme than most but it confirms an impression I had when I used to go up to Ottawa for those lobbying weeks in March. When dealing with the Conservatives, the only workable strategy is to vote them out of office as quickly as possible.
They had barely begun to state their case, Mr. Robinson said, when the minister accused them of twisting facts.
When CAUT staff said the Conservatives have a spotty record on science and noted they abolished the office of the national science adviser, Mr. Robinson said, the minister's assistant screamed at them to shut up.
“Then the minister said, ‘You've burned all your bridges with us!' and they stormed out.
“In all the meetings I've been in like this, I've never been shouted at and told to shut up,” Mr. Robinson said. The civil servant who escorted them to the elevator suggested it would not even be a good idea to return to the minister's office to collect their coats, he said. Instead, she retrieved them.
Trying to reason with them doesn't work.