When Canada has trouble measuring how much snow is on the ground,
something is seriously wrong with the state of government research.
internal Environment Canada report from 2008, released through an
access to information request, shows that cuts to the Meteorological
Service of Canada have left this country without accurate weather data.
We're not talking about a lack of money for fancy computer models or
self-indulgent research projects. No, this is about basic measurement
of stuff like temperature, rainfall and hours of sunshine.
system which had been gradually built up over decades, and which
functioned well, was shattered by Program Review 1 and Program Review 2
in the early to mid 1990s," reads the report, called Degradation in
Environment Canada's Climate Network, Quality Control and Data Storage
Practices: A Call to Repair the Damage.
The other words, the
current government can blame Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien.
Nonetheless, the underfunding has continued under the Conservatives'
watch and it is the duty of this government to fix this before it gets
The cuts were under the surface, which made them
less visible and more dangerous. The weather service kept providing
information, but the quality suffered as some stations were automated
and staffed offices were closed. At one point, according to the report,
"various attempts to salvage data gathering capabilities were tried,
including hiring parking lot commissionaires to take snow depth
measurements, but these produced mixed results."
Conservative government might be tempted to let this problem lie, since
one of the uses for climate data is research into the extent of climate
change -- not exactly a cause close to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's
This government has also made a bad habit of
demonstrating contempt for experts and researchers in all fields of
endeavour, portraying them as elites who are out of touch with ordinary
The government should get over its fear of facts,
and it should start with an honest assessment of the current needs of
the meteorological service. This is the furthest thing from an elite
issue one can imagine. The weather affects the lives of ordinary
Canadians every day, and so does weather data. Poor information makes
it difficult to fight forest fires or to design sewer systems and
buildings that can withstand storms and floods. Farmers need accurate
And yes, the need for information is made
even more urgent by the fact of climate change. If extreme weather
events are going to get more frequent, we need to understand how that's
likely to affect Canadian communities.
The report also makes
the point that Environment Canada shares its information with other
levels of government, the private sector and the international
scientific community. Inaccurate or spotty data will create mistrust in
those relationships, and it could take Environment Canada a long time
to recover from that.
There are smart ways to cut costs in the
public service and there are stupid ways. If the cuts to the
meteorological service are still affecting the quality of Canada's
climate data as much as this report suggests, Environment Minister Jim
Prentice should acknowledge the problem and start fixing it.