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Keep ‘Unmuzzled’ Scientists On Tight Leash, Senior Civil Servants Warn Liberals

Alex Boutilier, The Toronto Star

OTTAWA—Senior civil servants warned Canada’s new Liberal government that “unmuzzled” scientists still need a tight leash, internal documents show.

The new Liberal government has pledged to end an effective gag order on government scientists, who for years have faced major restrictions on speaking publicly about their research.

But documents prepared for Treasury Board President Scott Brison warn that when government policy and scientific pursuits don’t align, the scientists may exact their revenge.

“It is the legitimate role of politicians to set priorities. In setting priorities for government programs, science is but one factor,” read the documents, obtained under access to information laws. “While scientists may be disappointed when projects receive less funding or attention, it remains the role of ministers to determine priorities and defend them before the Canadian public.”

The documents were sent to Brison by Yaprak Baltacioglu, the top bureaucrat at Treasury Board. Brison is not the minister responsible for government science, but as the head of Treasury Board is responsible for the government’s overall communications policy.

The document notes that policy already “encourages public servants to communicate openly with the public,” a point that may come as a surprise to anyone who has attempted to speak to a public servant in the last decade.

More broadly, the documents warn, allowing public servants to be “openly critical” of government decisions would undermine the relationship between bureaucrats and their elected masters.

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