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Goodyear’s office allegedly threatened SSHRC over funding decision

September 29, 2009

Gary Goodyear’s political interference in a SSHRC funding decision reached further than previously thought, with the Science Minister’s chief of staff threatening to withhold future funding increases based on SSHRC’s decision to fund a contentious conference.

At the time, the brouhaha surrounding the York University Israel/Palestine conference led Minister Goodyear to issue a controversial public demand for a second round of peer review of the funding decision. Goodyear also allegedly telephoned SSHRC president Chad Gaffield directly to discuss the funding decision, a major breach of the arm’s length relationship supposed to exist between the government and the agency. The perceived political interference led a number of prominent academic groups to call for the minister’s resignation.

Now, it seems the behind-the-scenes political interference was more intense, with a senior member of the Minister’s office threatening to withhold SSHRC funding increases if the agency didn’t comply with the Minister’s demand.

According to an email obtained through an Access to Information request submitted by the CAUT, Goodyear’s chief of staff Phillip Welford told SSHRC communications director Trevor Lynn: “this is a serious issue and is so serious that it will make it hard for the Minister to recommend increased funding for SSHRC in the next budget”. The email was addressed to SSHRC president Chad Gaffield and was written by Lynn to alert SSHRC staff about the Minister’s forthcoming public statement about a second round of peer review.

CAUT executive director James Turk is quoted on the CAUT website:

This email raises serious questions about how decisions are made about federal government funding for academic granting councils. Minister Goodyear must be called upon to explain his chief of staff’s actions, and if he cannot provide an adequate explanation, Prime Minister Harper must safeguard the integrity of academic research in Canada by asking for the minister’s resignation.

The Globe and Mail has also picked up this story, and notes that SSHRC refused to perform a second round of peer review, and instead asked organizers to provide an update – as per SSHRC policies. This decision has no doubt left SSHRC waiting for the political fallout in the next budget. “They must be scared to death”, says Turk.

Certainly, Goodyear is going to have to address this issue. Using threats to influence SSHRC decisions demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the academic community and for the peer-review process. I wholeheartedly endorse the CAUT’s call for accountability.

The CAUT has posted the emails in question on their website (.pdf).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bahija Réghaï permalink
    October 4, 2009 12:39

    It is surprising that with a budget of millions of dollars, the Minister of Science and Technology found the time to look at a relatively small funding of $19,750. Ironically, his and his staff interference and meeting with “individuals and organizations [that] have expressed their grave concerns” must have spent at least this amount. Beyond the time and money wasted, this ministerial interference raises two fundamental issues:

    – Does a minister have it in his power to punish Canadian institutions for conducting research on subjects his ideology puts out of bound of discussion?
    – While lobbying is an accepted mode of influencing policy, shouldn’t the government of all Canadians listen to a variety of points of view so that decisions are made in an open, transparent and fair manner?

    A democratic civil society must have independent institutions and space to express and debate ideas, even uncomfortable ones. These are values that Canadians hold dear but which are increasingly under threat.

    By such tactics as intimidation, labelling and threat of withdrawal of funding, the Canadian government seems intent on muzzling and suborning independent institutions where thoughts and ideas are traditionally freely explored.

    The more so when done to appease specific, loud, partisan groups who, by being afforded access to and uncritical support by government ministers, have virtual veto power over what Canadians can hear and say when it comes to the Israel and Palestine.

    History has taught us that neither beliefs, however deeply seated, nor ideology must be allowed to dictate policy. Leaders and followers alike are doomed in a society that does not protect its own freedoms.

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