Over the past decade, the provincial government has eliminated about a quarter of staff-scientist and licensed-expert positions, according to the Professional Employees Association.
In a telephone interview, Scott McCannell, executive director of the PEA, told the Straight that the cuts have reached a point where they are adversely affecting planning, compliance, and enforcement. He expressed particular concern for the forestry sector and engineering and agrology monitoring in B.C.
“One time, the government would have had a significant presence out there in terms of boots on the ground, where licensed professionals are out actually having a look at the forests,” he said. “There simply aren’t people doing that work today.
“What we hear from our members is that they are closing district offices and that valuable surveys and plans that would have formed part of research useful in making future land- and resource-based decisions, that those things have simply been destroyed over time,” McCannell continued.
He noted that in February 2012, former B.C. auditor general John Doyle called attention to the province’s failure to properly monitor and report on timber programs.
“It’s not just the PEA saying this,” McCannell emphasized. “We don’t know what is going on with the state of forests and forest inventory.”
The environment and forest ministries did not return calls by deadline.
NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert compared the reduction in the number of B.C. scientists to federal cuts that critics have characterized as a “war on science”.
“It is the same thing,” the Vancouver–West End MLA told the Straight. “But I don’t think it is as well-known that Christy Clark and the Liberals are basically following the same approach as Stephen Harper when it comes to getting rid of the evidence and stepping on the gas pedal.”
Chandra Herbert warned that the loss of staff scientists will leave the province to govern in a reactive manner, unable to plan for the future.
“You have to have a good idea of what is coming ahead, and the only way to do that is with science and good evidence,” he said.