Changes to weather site are one more step toward dismantling EC

It is now two weeks since the federal government removed Environment Canada's logo from weather.gc.ca. Most of the commentaries so far have missed the point. The changes were not made primarily to give more space for Conservative Action Plan ads (although they do), but were more likely intended to further marginalize Environment Canada so that it will be even easier to dismantle.

Weather prediction is a major activity at Environment Canada (EC). Measurements from surface stations, radiosondes (weather balloons) and satellites are combined with international data to form snapshots of global weather conditions. The snapshots are used together with sophisticated computer models to predict future conditions. Trained and experienced meteorologists at EC interpret the predictions to make the forecasts that you read on news sites and see on television every day.

And EC's weather forecasting work is insanely popular with the Canadian public. Annie Bergeron-Oliver/iPolitics reports "In the last 12 months, weather has been the seventh most google searched term in Canada. And according to Alexa, a web analytic site, weatheroffice.gc.ca is the top subdomain of the government’s “gc.ca” website."

We have discussed before that the Harper Government may be planning to dismantle EC. The removal of the EC logo from the weather.gc.ca is consistent with that narrative. Keeping Canadians in the dark about EC's good work -- out of sight, out of mind -- makes it all the easier to continue to take EC apart.

The earlier suggestions were that EC might be merged with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). We think that would be a disaster because the mandates of the two departments (described here and here) are in fundamental conflict. In short, EC is responsible for environmental protection whereas NRCan is responsible for promotion of resource development.

A combined EC/NRCan ministry would most likely have a mandate of "protection and promotion", similar to that of Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). Nature reports that the dual mandate is currently causing "confusion" at DFO and damaging fish stocks. Dalhousie University professor (and former DFO scientist) Jeff Hutchings argued way back in 1997 that "linking science with management can, and has, lead to abuses that threaten the ability of scientists to understand fully the causes of fish declines, to identify means of preventing fishery collapses from recurring, to incorporate scientific advice in management decisions, and to communicate research in a timely fashion to as wide an audience as possible."

The DFO experience provides a clear example of why EC and NRCan should not be merged. Conflicting mandates leads to poor results. We can ill afford such a similar conflict at EC when the health and safety of Canadians hangs in the balance.

See also:

The Star: Don’t turn weather site into billboard for Harper government

Straight.com: Weighing the scales: balancing the dual mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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