1.05.2014

government destruction of environmental archives: the harper govt's war on facts marches on

At year's end, The Tyee reported that a memo - marked "secret" and first reported on OCanada.com - cast grave doubts on the Harper Government's claim that environmental archives were destroyed only after they had been preserved digitally. In other words, the memo proves what progressive and concerned Canadians have long known and suspected to be true.
A federal document marked "secret" obtained by Postmedia News indicates the closure or destruction of more than half a dozen world famous science libraries has little if anything to do with digitizing books as claimed by the Harper government.

In fact, the document, a compendium of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that can be read in its entirety at the bottom of this story, mentions only the "culling of materials" as the "main activities" involved as the science libraries are reduced from nine to two. Specifically, it details "culling materials in the closed libraries or shipping them to the two locations and culling materials in the two locations to make room for collections from closed libraries."

In contrast, a government website says the closures are all about digitizing the books and providing greater access to Canadians -- a claim federal and retired scientists interviewed by The Tyee say is not true.
BoingBoing reports:
The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.
These actions must be seen in context of the Harper Government's ongoing and pervasive War on Facts. The Harper Government serves the interest of two groups: Canada's small but influential religious right, and the corporate elites, especially the very powerful extraction industries. And to keep these groups happy - or at least, when it comes to the religious right, mollified - the Government must appeal to the general public on an emotional, rather than factual, level. Evidence of this is all around.

The Government's war on immigration and refugees relies on denying facts and eliciting emotional reactions of envy, fear, and discontent: witness the "gold-plated" refugee health care plan that never existed, or Jason Kenney's frequent assertions that Roma and other persecuted peoples made "bogus" refugee claims.

Pouring taxpayer money into privatized for-profit prison schemes is all about denying facts (crime is at an all-time low) and playing on fears (liberal Canada was soft on criminals! criminals are coming to get you!).

And of course, there are the Big Lies. The war in Afghanistan is being fought to liberate women. Climate change doesn't exist. They have to deny and destroy a mountain of facts to support those whoppers.

What are the demise of the mandatory long-form census and the deep budget cuts to Statistics Canada if not a war on facts? Indeed, if government decisions are to be based on what's good for the energy industries and what social regressives want, then we'd better not keep accurate statistics. Statistics will only prove the depth and breadth of Harper's destructive effects on Canada.

Nothing makes the Harper Government's War on Facts more literal than its massive budget cuts to Library and Archives Canada, and its literal destruction of libraries. As Donald Gutstein points out in a 2012 Tyee story:
Why would the Harper government cut Canada's Library and Archives budget? Heritage Minister James Moore explained the 10 per cent overall cut would not hurt the agency because records could be digitized and made available to Canadians via the Internet.

But the 2012 budget cut the digitization staff by 50 per cent.
Gutstein enumerates the three overlapping motives behind the Harper Government's War on Facts. One, the need to "satisfy his party's evangelical base". Two, the drive for government-sanctioned, whitewashed history: cross-reference the celebration of The War of 1812 and Vimy Ridge, and my analysis of Discover Canada. And three, to silence voices that challenge the Harper Agenda.
Limiting access to Canada's actual archives makes it easier to promote revisionist histories like The Canadian Century, a book written by Harper government allies -- three libertarian economists with no formal historical training.

Authors are Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Niels Veldhuis, who now heads the Fraser Institute, and Jason Clemens, who once worked for the Fraser Institute and now is at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. They are among Canada's elite economic conservatives.
In this sense, the destruction of the environmental archives is to be expected from this Government. The original story from PostMedia demonstrates how perfectly it dovetails with the Harper agenda.
The downsizing also includes the shutdown of federal libraries and millions of dollars in reductions to climate change adaptation programs. In total, the department estimates it will cut about $80 million per year from its budget by 2014-15, and over $100 million per year in the following fiscal year.

But the cuts coincide with internal advice from top bureaucrats that the government should instead be increasing its spending in the department to protect both economic and environmental interests, particularly for Coast Guard services which are facing cuts equivalent to about $20 million by 2014-15 and 300 full-time jobs.

“Rising marine traffic, technological changes, climate change impacts (such as fluctuating water levels), and extended shipping seasons are among the factors expected to continue to place increased demands on Coast Guard services,” said briefing notes prepared for the department’s deputy minister Matthew King in December 2012. “For example, there are demands for increasing icebreaking services on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Great Lakes, for extending Marine Communications and Traffic Services, aids to navigation and ice breaking services in the Quebec North and Arctic for additional environmental response as well as search and rescue capacities in selected areas.”
I also note that more than a knowledge base and marine programs were destroyed. These budget cuts - and all budget cuts - represent massive job losses, making the lives of countless Canadians more precarious in a country that has already destroyed much of it social safety net.

The Harper Government says these budget cuts are necessary to eliminate a budget deficit... which speaks to the biggest lie of all: the fiscally conservative Conservative. For more on that subject: Harper is a fiscal conservative — except when he isn’t, and The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism. From the latter article, in Canadian Dissensus:
The idea of fiscal conservatism must be stripped bare and revealed for what it really is. It has no relation to budgetary probity and the wise use of public funds. Rather it is a rhetorical tool used to justify the selfish desire for tax cuts – regardless of the value – and provide intellectual cover for direct (or more typically indirect) regressive social policies and a more strident social conservatism. It is a tool of state retrenchment masquerading as prudent planning, of forcing governments to ‘live within their means’ while continuously reducing these means. It is a dishonest idea used by scoundrels. Sadly it is effective rhetoric. People still think Mussolini made the trains run on time.

9 comments:

Alison said...

Notable which depts actually increased in size, given the Cons 2012 promise to cut 19,000 positions from the federal public service over five years.

Staffing increases as of 2012 by dept, as per the PBO :
Canadian Border Services - up 54.6%
Correctional Services - up 31%
RCMP civilian staff - up 40%
Public Safety Canada - up 53%
CSEC - up 42%
FINTRAC - up 88%
DND - up 29%
Treasury Board - up 163%

laura k said...

Thanks for that, Alison!

James Redekop said...

It seems in character that the Tories' approach to information sciences amounts to a self-induced lobotomy.

And perfectly keeping with the modern concept of "fiscal conservatism" to destroy millions of dollars' worth of irreplacible documents to save around $450,000.

In positive news, it turns out that there's at least one copy of the HMS Challenger's logs in existence outside Canada. For a bit there, it looked like the world had lost the records of one of the greatest scientific expeditions of the 19th century.

deang said...

It reminds me of something Reagan attempted in 1983. From Project Censored:

"in 1983 the Reagan/Bush administration tried to persuade U.S. universities and researchers to destroy all cannabis research work done between 1966 and 1976, including compendiums in libraries."

laura k said...

I did notice the BoingBoing story had been updated re the Challenger logs. So the Cons didn't destroy the last records, but only by happenstance.

Reagan's attempted destruction of research points to the upside of research being in private hands. I've always thought all these public programs in Canada were an excellent system... until this government.

M@ said...

As someone with some experience with setting up programs to digitize public paper documents, I am at least glancingly familiar with the expense and complexity of the problem. And while the government claims that this is all being done because they're digitizing everything, it's frighteningly clear that there is no such program. The Harper Government even cut Archives Canada's digitization staff by half in 2012.

But as usual, the government simply refuses to answer questions on the subject, so it's not like we can say whether they're digitizing anything at all.

Notice that the chill on public servants answering to the public is so great that no Archives Canada or DFO librarians are going on record on the subject.

James Redekop said...

If this really were about the money, the government could probably have made a few million by auctioning off the collections to museums & collectors. I'm not a big fan of historical and artistic artifacts being secreted away in private hands, but even if the whole lot had gone to private collectors, it would have been better than destroying the materials.

James Redekop said...

Via Boing Boing, the Canadian government's worst moments of 2013

laura k said...

And while the government claims that this is all being done because they're digitizing everything, it's frighteningly clear that there is no such program. The Harper Government even cut Archives Canada's digitization staff by half in 2012.

But as usual, the government simply refuses to answer questions on the subject, so it's not like we can say whether they're digitizing anything at all.


It is fucking scary.

James makes a good point. Of course I would also documents stay in public hands vs private, but a private collection is infinitely preferable to destruction.