Is Canada using science or not for decision-making?

Canada’s Chief Science Adviser needs to use science

By Andrew Joseph

Time and again, the Canadian government attempts to placate the agricultural sector by stating that it does employ science-based facts when making decisions that affect the livelihood of farmers, retailers, and consumers.

And while it has always been a challenge to state whether or not results have science-based backing, a recent statement made by Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Dr. Mona Nemer would imply there is a disconnect on how the government is going about its due diligence.

On February 15, 2023—an auspicious date because it is Canadian Agriculture Day, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association expressed dismay, if not an audible tsk-tsk, at a meeting of the Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research after Dr. Nemer admitted that she had not been asked, nor had determined if mandated fertilizer reductions would impact food production in Canada.

Feel free to add your own “aha!” or melancholy “sigh.”

It would seem at the outset to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how fertilizer works in conjunction with food production that a response to its impact on Canadian food production is something that should be considered by a chief science advisor.

Will a reduction in fertilizer impact Canadian food production? Again, it’s a yes or no response.

As the question is stated, a reduction will impact Canadian food production, because fertilizer feeds plants to gain an increase in yield. So the obvious answer is yes—without delving deep into the science.

However, the next part of this question should be, will it impact Canadian food production negatively or positively?

Unfortunately, Dr. Nemer’s response as the science advisor for Canada did not allow us to get as far as a second tier of questioning.

Her job mandate is: “The Office of the Chief Science Advisor provides advice on issues related to science and government policies that support it. This includes advising on ways to ensure that scientific knowledge is considered in public policy decisions and that government science is fully available to the public.”

Dr. Nemer’s inability to provide a proper science-based response shows a failure to study an apparent relationship between fertilizer and food production.

Gunter Jochum is a farmer and the President of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based not-for-profit farm advocacy group keen on developing agriculture policy solutions that strengthen the profitability and sustainability of Canadian farming and the agricultural industry.

On Dr. Nemer’s non-committal response, Jochum stated in a press release that: “More and more government departments are failing to deliver on their mandates, and are being ideologically captured. We see this in Agriculture Canada, and now in the office of the Chief Science Advisor.

“At a time of food insecurity and skyrocketing consumer prices for basic food staples, to fail to consider the impact on the food supply of fertilizer reductions is frankly appalling,” he continued.

“Canadians deserve a public policy that is based on science and common sense,” he explained. “Neither supports reducing the Canadian food supply at this time, and that is what mandated fertilizer cuts will do.

“For the government not to subject this policy to scientific analysis says one thing clearly—they don’t care if consumers face even higher prices and more food insecurity.”

It also appears to place in jeopardy the Canadian government’s stance that it uses science-based reasoning when making decisions affecting Canadian agriculture.

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