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Tories appoint Preston Manning to science council

Latest stain on fed's track record on science

Already under fire from the scientific community, the Harper government has quietly appointed a fellow conservative to an “independent” federal science advisory council.

Late Jul 11 — just an hour or two before the weekend began — Industry Minister Jim Prentice announced that Preston Manning would join the Council of Canadian Academies. The group’s mandate is to provide an “independent, expert assessment of the science underlying pressing issues and matters of public interest.”

Manning was the founder and the only leader of the now-defunct Reform Party. The rightwing political party became the Canadian Alliance and eventually merged with the Progressive Conservatives to create today’s federal Conservative Party. Some members of the Reform Party were notorious for their anti-gay and anti-abortion views.

Manning’s appointment is the latest stain on the Conservative’s track record on scientific issues, a list that includes ignoring research on harm reduction and climate change. The Harper government eliminated the position of national science advisor in Jan 2008.

In Feb 2008, the widely-respected international science journal Nature published a scathing criticism of the Tories.

“Science has long faced an uphill battle for recognition in Canada, but the slope became steeper when the Conservative government was elected in 2006,” read the editorial, “Science in retreat.”

Manning has previously been vocal with his ideas about how religion should shape public policy.

His website, prestonmanning.ca, contains numerous opinion pieces in which he protests the separation of church and state:

“The separation of church and state — an important principle to be preserved — does not mean that we can or should keep faith perspectives from influencing political decisions or vice versa.”

The website also contains links to articles written by Manning such as “The genetic revolution: where does faith fit in?” But when one clicks on the link, the following message appears: “This website has recently been moved. Unfortunately some of the content is no longer available, please try again later.”

But internet archives have kept records of the site, which are freely available at archive.org. The archive page for “Genetic revolution: where does faith fit in?” shows Manning’s views on religion and science:

“There must be a higher notion than science alone… that can guide scientific research and endeavor,” writes Manning. “Simply because we can do something does not mean that we should do it. But what might that “higher notion” be? One of the candidates is “faith” — religious faith — faith in the existence of God… and faith that there are universal and transcendent moral principles which ought to govern us in addition to the principles of physics, chemistry, and biology to which we are all subject.”

The Tories are — unsurprisingly — “very pleased” to have someone with such values influencing public policy. The Industry Minister lavished praise on Manning in a press release announcing the appointment.

“There is no doubt that his diverse knowledge and extensive involvement in strengthening relations with scientific communities will be of great value to the Council,” says Prentice.