Nine marine scientists and staff in North Saanich Friday will lose their jobs as the federal government cuts almost all the employees who monitor ocean pollution across Canada.
The entire DFO contaminants program nationally and regionally — including two research scientists, a chemist and four technicians at the Institute for Ocean Sciences in North Saanich — is being shut down effective April 1, 2013.
Across Canada, the government is slashing up to 75 jobs in the national contaminants program — that involves any one who works mostly in marine pollution. For about a decade Fisheries and Oceans has been trying to offload the program to Environment Canada. Instead, this week, it axed it.
“The entire pollution file for the government of Canada, and marine environment in Canada’s three oceans, will be overseen by five junior biologists scattered across the country — one of which will be stationed in B.C.,” said environmental toxicologist Peter Ross., a expert on marine mammals, notably killer whales.
“I cannot think of another industrialized nation that has completely excised marine pollution from its radar,” Ross said. Hired as a research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 1999, Ross was one of the nine employees who received a letter Thursday informing him his position will be “affected as your services may no longer be required due to a lack of work or discontinuance of a function.”
“It is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans, or any ability to manage its impacts on commercial fish stocks, traditional foods to over 300,000 aboriginal people, and marine wildlife,” Ross said.
There are 25,000 chemicals in the Canadian market place, hundreds of which can be detected in Canada’s killer whales. There are also over 350 pesticides registered for use in B.C. Ross deals with a wide range of pollution files from municipal sewage and pesticide impacts on salmon to the effect of PCBs on killer whales and contaminated sites throughout B.C.
The federal government says 19,200 jobs will be eliminated in the next three years as it cuts $5.2 billion in spending. As part of those cutbacks, 13,000 union jobs across Canada have already been affected — including 898 in B.C., according to the Public Service Alliance Canada union.
“Between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, we have found $79.3 million of savings for Canadians primarily by adjusting our internal operations and administration,” said Melanie Carkner, a spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in an e-mail, Friday.
“To put the impact on employees in perspective, we will be removing about 400 positions from DFO’s 11,000-strong workforce. This works out to less than 2 per cent a year over three years.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is re-focusing its research on priority areas that directly support conservation and fisheries management: “In lieu of in-house research on the biological effects of contaminants and pesticides, the department will establish an advisory group and research fund of $1.4 million a year to work with academia and other independent facilities to get advice on priority issues and ensure departmental priorities are met,” Carkner said.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who represents Saanich-Gulf Island said to lose all the toxics-related research going on at IOS is shocking. The cuts are no longer about “streamlining but instead steamrollering,” she said. “I will do everything I can to stop this government’s budget bill” — the Budget Implementation Act C-38, May said.
The area of environmental science is being targeted and decimated, she said.
“We’re talking about putting oil tankers on our coastline so they close the Emergency Response office for oil spills in B.C., and move nine toxicologists?,” May said
Deficit reduction is important “but to take out an entire group that’s not prudent fiscal management, that’s driven by ideology that doesn’t want to know what toxin chemicals are doing in the ocean and freshwater,” she said.
Bob Jackson, PSAC regional executive vice-president, said the cuts by the federal Conservatives are reckless in that there has been “virtually zero consultation” with stakeholders.
“It’s quite clear that those making the decisions don’t know the work they are making serious serious decisions about,” Jackson said, Friday.
Workers in the contaminants program in North Saanich were reeling in disbelief, disappointment and shock Friday, Ross said.
“I will say to their credit, of the nine people axed in our program, I would say every single one was less concerned with is or her personal career loss than they were concerned about what this means to Canada as a country,” Ross said.