Top federal bureaucrats using “preapproved’ messages


Published 03/12/2012
Environment Minister Peter Kent

Environment Minister Peter Kent     ~ CP

At first, a top Environment Canada official seemed game to discuss “unmuzzling” government scientists during an international science conference earlier this year.

“I would be very interested in participating,” Karen Dodds, an assistant deputy minister, said by email to colleagues when she received an invitation to sit on a panel aimed at opening the lines of communications between the news media and federal scientists.

Instead, she sat in the audience as a spectator during the session at the Vancouver conference, and was informed she should refer questions about the government’s strict communication policy to Ottawa, where a government “tactics” committee was working on a response, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

The response  –  that Environment Canada is “exemplary”  at responding to media inquiries – was eventually released as a letter to the editor signed by Paul Boothe, then the deputy minister of environment, after it was edited and pre-approved by Environment Minister Peter Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office. The Privy Council Office, or PCO, reports to the prime minister.

The federal government is so involved in supervising messaging that even officials defending its communications policy use lines “preapproved” by their political masters, the documents show. Continue reading

Canada’s docile ‘living fossil’ can’t handle the heat

Published August 12, 2012

The Wild Side, Part Two: As the human footprint expands across Canada, so does the threat to the country’s wildlife. There are now 650 species officially listed as endangered, threatened, special concern, or no longer found in the wild in Canada. In part two of the series, Postmedia News looks at a small mammal scientists refer to as “a living fossil.”

The Mountain Beaver, shown here after being caught by BC researchers, is the most primitive rodent alive in the world today. Photo by Michelle Holst

Fresh green ferns and leaves stacked up at the entrance of the tunnel are a dead giveaway. The “living fossil” is in.

But good luck seeing the creature, which is known as the Mountain Beaver.

It is so elusive that homeowners near colonies on mountain slopes outside Vancouver are often unaware that the strange little mammals are nibbling on carrots in their backyards.

“They’d have no idea,”  says wildlife biologist Pontus Lindgren, who studied one colony that had been raiding gardens.

While the creatures share a name with the much more common North American Beaver, that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Mountain Beavers are, as scientists put it, a “living fossil.”  They are the most primitive rodent alive in the world today, the only remaining representative of a family of creatures that dates back at least 25 million years, long before humans walked the Earth. Continue reading

Obscure and unloved: Federal government spurns a chance to help boost three endangered species

August  6, 2012

The Wild Side, Part 1

As the human footprint expands across Canada, so does the threat to the country’s wildlife. There are now 650 species officially listed as endangered, threatened, of special concern, or no longer found in the wild in Canada. Government and environmentalists have often tussled over conservation efforts.  Postmedia News science writer Margaret Munro  looks at some vulnerable species across the country, beginning with those that are most unloved.

Part 1

Senior Staff Scientist at Ecojustice, Susan Pinkus is pictured at Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC (BEN NELMS for Postmedia News)

VANCOUVER – In a good year, the tangle of leaves and stems on southern Vancouver Island can grow up to six metres long. It’s been sprouting out of the ground every spring for decades.

The plant, a Coast Manroot that grows from huge, human-sized underground tubers, is one of Canada’s most endangered species. It’s also one of the most obscure and unloved.

Maintenance crews and mowers have been whacking away at the plant near Victoria – one of the 18 known manroots still alive in Canada – and grazing animals have trampled and killed several others. Continue reading

Canada losing its Arctic PEARL

The Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island as it emerged out of months of winter darkness in early March. The station, one of the world’s premier observatories for tracking the health of Arctic atmosphere, but has run out of money because of cuts to climate science programs. Photo credit Pierre Fogal

Sat Mar 24 2012  Vancouver Sun

By Margaret Munro

Atmospheric scientist Pierre Fogal headed north in February to help check on Earth’s protective ozone layer high in the Arctic stratosphere.

But he spent much of his time on his knees dealing with burst water pipes and frozen sewer lines at Canada’s beleaguered Arctic research station.

Then this week, the electrical system malfunctioned, says Fogal, site manager for PEARL, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island.

The station, now limping along at half power and a chilly 10 C inside, is one of the world’s premier observatories for tracking the health of the Arctic atmosphere. The station houses millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment used to monitor the ozone layer, greenhouse gases and pollution swirling around the polar vortex. Continue reading