We must save experimental lakes

The Conservative government’s contempt for science has just claimed a new victim.

This time, the target is the experimental lakes program, initiated in northwestern Ontario half a century ago and world-renowned for its excellent work. The Conservatives recently announced they were cutting funding to the program, which will close its doors in March 2013.

But research conducted in the experimental lakes area is vital for the protection of the environment.

These 58 lakes enable us to study the reactions of aquatic ecosystems to the presence of various contaminants. They also enable us to establish long-term surveillance, because their environment is completely controlled by researchers.

Let’s take a concrete example. Thanks to this program, Canada is the only country in the world where scientists study the impacts of silver nanoparticles – antimicrobial agents found in a variety of commercial products – on lakes and marine ecosystems. This is major research that allows the government to make informed decisions based on facts.

With the end of the experimental lakes program, this study will never see results and public policymakers will remain in the dark.

Many other important studies will be at risk after the program ends. Studies on acid rain, phosphates, blue algae, among others, will have to be abandoned. As we know, blue algae caused great concern in Quebec some time ago… Did the Conservatives consult the waterfront property owners dealing with this problem before making a decision? 

The most shocking thing is that the experimental lakes program costs the public purse less than $2 million dollars annually, salaries and operation budgets included. So we are talking about marginal, almost symbolic, savings.

This government’s way of slashing the budgets of numerous departments without thinking about the very real consequences puzzles me.  

Since its beginnings, the experimental lakes program has been a success. It enabled more than 80 researchers to work on their master’s or doctorate. It has also benefited the public because data collected by the researchers are often public and the conclusions of the studies support the development of coherent public policies. What will specialists do now that their main research equipment has been abolished? Will they have to go work for private companies, preventing the government from retaining its valuable expertise?   

Fortunately, many experts and citizens took matters into their own hands and created a website to make their opposition heard. By clearly explaining our position to the Conservatives, they can no longer do whatever they please and make bad decisions based on contempt and ignorance. Together, we can bring them back to earth.