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Tories muzzle environmental scientist: Catch a fire

Catch a fire

Too hot for Harper?

First he gagged the press, now he’s out to clean up CanLit.

Mere days after Prime Minister Stephen Harper got up in the House of Commons and claimed his Accountability Act would protect civil servants who speak out about unethical behaviour, Mark Tushingham, a scientist with Environment Canada, got an e-mail from the Environment Minister’s office.

Tushingham was just about to give a presentation on the science behind his novel Hotter Than Hell at the National Press Club. Released last November with little fanfare, it’s about the Earth becoming so hot from climate change that America and Canada are at war over water.

"I was entering the elevator 15 minutes before the event when I got a call on my cellphone," says Tushingham’s publisher, Elizabeth Margaris at DreamCatcher Publishing. "[Tushingham] said, ‘I’ve got bad news. I can’t go.’ He was told [by the Environment Minister's office] not to appear."

While Tushingham himself was not available for comment, Margaris told Hour, "This is just outrageous. Mark can’t talk but I can. They can’t fire me. They can’t gag me."

Officially, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose’s office told Tushingham not to attend because he was billed as a government speaker. But an ad for the April 13 Newsmaker Luncheon billed Tushingham as an Ottawa environmental scientist, as does the back of his book.

Perhaps more telling is the fact that on the same day Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn issued a release stating 15 programs related to the Kyoto Protocol will be eliminated. Says Margaris, "When we asked why [Tushingham's presentation] was shut down, the minister said it was ‘bad timing.’ But how were we supposed to know that the government was going to make an announcement that they were cutting 80 per cent of Kyoto programs?"

Margaris continues, "The science within [Tushingham's] book is all in the public domain, there’s nothing revolutionary here. Besides, it’s fiction. It’s written by a scientist about what he envisions happening in the future."

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  11 comments

  • by Stephen Talko - April 20, 2006, 8:06 am

    If we are interested in the topic of climate change we can always go out and buy the book “Hotter Than Hell” and read it at our leisure. I am sure that many libraries also have this book available for borrowing. Giving a presentation that would be very superficial because of time constraints is geared toward lazy people who can’t be bothered to read and think. There is no great loss if the speech is not given. Also many of the attendees could easily confuse this novel with an actual scientific paper.

  • by J Flegg - April 20, 2006, 10:18 am

    It is bad timing: you can’t talk about how global warming is an actual concern right before the government talks about how it’s going to stop most of its programs that might address the issue. Especially not if you work for the government! That might suggest that, oh, this lack of concern for environmental issues is a bad idea.
    Not that we know what any MPs think of this, since they’re not allowed to talk about it. (I guess there was enough dissention in the ranks after the Emerson debacle, Harper doesn’t want more.) After all, an MP is elected to serve their constituents — in secret. Trust them — would any MP ever take advantage of their power, especially when they don’t ever have to answer questions about it?
    But now it’s even better: anyone working for the federal government cannot talk in public. A scientist, talking about the science that he studies? Mr. Harper and his government can’t control the results of science, but they can prevent those results being disseminated.
    This time, it’s come back to haunt them. How many people would have heard about this book, or this research, if there hadn’t been this gag order? Compare it to how many people have now heard about the issue.
    Mr. Harper is playing chicken with Canada: we’ll all let him get away with anything, just so long as we don’t have another election soon. Please, fellow Canadians: don’t blink first.

  • by Rob Polka - April 20, 2006, 10:57 am

    Hopefully I won’t get in trouble for stating an idea but if so I’ll quote Christian Slater from Pump up the Volume, So Be It!!! The people in charge, and I mean in every country, prefer profit and their own political welfare over saving the planet. The simple fact is that to make the necessary changes will cost a lot. It will cost you and me personally. Nothing is free in this world. The simple fact is that sacrifices will have to be made. The reason politicians don’t make the changes is that they know they will have to make unpopular moves like raise taxes and the like to actually make any significant changes. This could hurt them politically and who wants that, right? Imagine what would happen if they suddenly said everybody had to buy a brand new hydrogen or electric car in the next 5 years. The automotive industry would love it, oil industry would break down in tears. Even if you agree that the planet needs saving you would be pissed that the government in essence is forcing you to spend 30K. The fact remains though that people want change. We would like our grandchildren to actually be able to breathe fresh air, to not have to take trips to Antarctica to escape the heat. So here goes my idea which I admit does more than flirt with eco terrorism. What people should do on Earth Day or the like is after they finish picking up garbage or toxic sludge is they should cart it over to every politician who can make a difference and dump it on their fresh manicured front lawns. Maybe Harper and his gang and the other leaders of the world would finally listen when they get a clear message like that. Ok probably not. They’d throw some people in jail and that would be the end of it. Easier to do that than by making the hard decisions which might put them out of a job in four years. As was brilliantly put in Jason Reitman’s new movie Thank You For Smoking, you gotta ‘pay the mortgage’.

  • by Pedro Eggers - April 20, 2006, 5:52 pm

    It’s ironic really, I mean given Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s position on the environment and environmental law you’d think that he’s about as eco-friendly as a forest fire and yet look at how much manure his office is shovelling about…
    ~
    Am I surprised? Are you? No and no. We know the man well enough and we know what kind of politics he practices. The man is a backwards thinking fascist that’s more than likely to sell us all out to the United States if it fulfills his idea of what a stronger Canada is. Clearly, freedom of speech just got pulled off the table. You think this is bad? Just wait…this is only the beginning. A demagogue like this can only get worse. Pulling this over a work of fiction with a cheap looking cover? All he’s done is prove yet again why he never should have gotten elected…and unintentionally boost the book sales. Idiot!

  • by Martin Dansky - April 20, 2006, 6:30 pm

    Isn’t it lovely to know that while the science behind the book is public domain the person who wrote it isn’t free to talk about it?It isn’t any secret to know that at the rate we our selling out control of our natural resources to the guys with the deep pockets south of the border, Canada won’t have a leg to stand on in the near future as a viable country able to pass any significant environmental laws on its own. All this is happening while we are denying any real presence in Afghanistan as puppets to the American system, we have helicopters that fall from the sky and we don’t even have our own icebreaker to clear a passage through the Northwest Territories.

  • by Philip Starecky - April 21, 2006, 9:03 pm

    Well I guess our government is becoming more and more like the one south of the border everyday. First it was a memo telling all party members not to talk to the press without party approval so they can all keep on message and avoid little leaks and slip ups, now it is telling lower level employees not to talk about non-governmental projects that could be seen to be criticizing the government…
    It is very worisome to be sitting here and see governments the world over flood us with useless information while slowly eradicating useful information from the data stream… I guess they are taking the old maxim ignorance is bliss to heart, so by keeping us uninformed they are trying to keep the masses peaceful and avoid the social protests that rocked the 1970s… since that time the media has been consolidated in the hands of a few wealthy individuals and corporations which are friends with the politicians. When the media bothers to cover protests it tends to paint them as the work of fanatics, crazies or just plain deluded idealists… it’s hard to build up popular support in the face of such powerful opposition from the government as well as the press… which is supposed to be an instrument for keeping the people in power in check but it is instead increasingly being used by those in power to keep the public in the dark…
    What are concerned citizens supposed to do???

  • by Mark St Pierre - April 22, 2006, 3:22 pm

    Well, it didn’t take Harper all that time to find his legs and shift into ultra-Conservative high-gear. So much for his highly publicized Accountability Act…I mean if it’s supposed to ostensibly empower those in his government to deliver the facts – the news we need to know – only to have this filtered by the PM’s office, or as in the case of Mark Tushingham, silenced outright, then what we’re getting ultimtately is merely more of the same – double-talk, lies, and deceit. La plus ca change…

  • by Raf Matthyssen - April 23, 2006, 4:11 pm

    No one should be shocked to hear that a politician in a situation of power tried to shut up a scientist who is trying to tell the truth based on years of research because it conflicts with government policy. I am a little shocked to hear that a minister (or her office) tried to muzzle a scientist not for his research but for a work of fiction. That is like the american government trying to shut down “The Day After Tommorrow”. I am on the other hand not really surprised by the actions of carreer policians. What qualifies them to comment on and dictate policy. Although I understand minister Ambrose is pretty new to the political arena she has no scientific background and I do not think she is qualified to comment on issues of global warming and the environment. I would much rather put my trust in the scientists who have a much deeper understanding in these matters.

  • by Steve Landry - April 23, 2006, 6:10 pm

    Prime Minister Harper. Is he fuzzy? Is he warm? Is he a man of the people?
    Hell will probably freeze over before Harper gains the type of popularity that he may be under the impression he is creating with lame-assed decisions like this one.
    The recent cancellation of scientist Mark Tushingham’s little press gathering is not that surprising. I wonder who made the call? Who was speaking into Harper’s earpiece to give this type of paranoid advice to try to blanket any apparent inconsistencies that may be misconstrued by the media? Will this decision detract from Harper’s hapless sag in popularity or only raise more questions?
    Clearly, Mr Harper is not honouring election promises and so far, appears to be totally inept at dealing with public pressure towards the rising cost of fuel and tax breaks.
    Protect the Environment Ministry at all costs, but what about protecting our natural resources and our actual environment instead of the wordspeak you are trying to muffle?
    I have a hard time reading about politicians who try to control everything that may appear to have some impact on their success and reputation, but this story of making Mark Tushingham, a scientist with Environment Canada go away, is just wrong.
    Interestingly, Tushingham will probably be consulted on some scientific question the week following this whole mess. Don’t forget to turn your cheek Mark.

  • by Ellen Reid - April 25, 2006, 2:03 pm

    This reminds me of an advert for Carlsberg a while ago, set in a futuristic western world where water was an extremely important commodity and was even sold on the black market by gangs. A well-dressed, 30-odd year old man goes into a big building, to the top floor where he gets served a pint of Carlsberg by a pretty girl – beer, the solution!
    All governments gag their workers to some extent, and unfortunately Canada is no exception. You see, the people in power have to try and protect themselves as much as possible from the strong possibility of losing favour and getting voted out… whether they do this by rigging elections, enforcing rule, lying or shutting people up is all by-the-by.
    Although Tushingham’s experience should speak as a warning, I think the more newsworthy item in this article is that Harper decided (surprise suprise) to cut so many Kyoto programs. What is wrong with this man? I know he’s from oil-rich Alberta, but that doesn’t mean he has the right to shit on other provinces or the rest of the world, à la Bush. When your leader doesn’t believe in the same things as you, surely your sense of pride in your country diminishes somewhat. I know mine has reduced dramatically since Blair turned his back on most of the election promises he made. The sad thing is that as a population, we (as in people the world over) seem to think that we have no choice: either all the political parties look the same or the ones we support ‘will never get into power’, so we do some strategic voting instead. If we just stood up for what we believed in then things might be a bit different. If we even voted that would be a start….

  • by Marie-Joëlle Bertrand - April 26, 2006, 3:17 pm

    It really scares me when I see such a novel. Censorship is unacceptable in our society. To know that the governments do it makes me wonder what else they hide from us. And that’s not even talking about the limitation on the Kyoto programs!

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