This is public consultation?

When browsing twitter last week, I came across the following post:

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.06.24 PM

That’s right- DFO is seeking public consultation on (some of) the changes to the Fisheries Act. For those interested, the link to the changes (and instructions on how to comment- there’s a process, not surprisingly) is here:

http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2013/2013-04-13/html/reg1-eng.html#reg

Great, consultation. This is a good thing. So, I thought I’d check the DFO website to see where it was advertizing the fact that it was looking for consultation:

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.17.58 PM

Hmm- nope, just Economic Action Plan ads. Okay, it must be under the news section- the notice for publication was made on April 13th, so there’s probably a news release to let people know that it’s available for comment:

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.22.38 PM

Okay, nothing there for April 13th, and no earlier announcements (you can check the site yourself to verify: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/media/news-presse-eng.htm).

Maybe an oversight then. Surely, it’s on the DFO twitter feed- after all, this is what social media is for, right? Interaction and engagement with an audience. Let’s see:

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.40.33 PM

Hunh. So all this news clearly overwhelmed DFO’s communication staff around the 13th of April, and besides, it’s only asking for public consultation on the Fisheries Act, which essentially guides how the department operates on a day-to-day basis. Nothing as important as talking about how to age cod.

Hold on- let’s go back to the Gazette page for a second:

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is communicating with stakeholders to raise awareness of this regulatory proposal and to inform stakeholders of the comment period afforded through prepublication of the proposed Regulations in Part Ⅰ of the Canada Gazette. Potential revisions to the proposed Regulations will be made based on comments received during the 30-day comment period.”

Oh- I see. Publication in the Gazette IS the notification. Because everyone I know reads the Canada Gazette regularly (clearly, it’s something we should probably be doing more often). Interestingly, there’s all kinds of amendments where consultation is currently being sought, by the Department of Environment, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and Parks Canada, to name a few.

Okay, so if you’re interested in making comments, note the following (also from the Canada Gazette page):

“Interested persons may make representations concerning the proposed Regulations within 30 days after the date of publication of this notice [April 13, 2013]. All such representations must cite the Canada Gazette, Part Ⅰ, and the date of publication of this notice, and be addressed to Ray O’Flaherty, Legislation and Regulatory Affairs, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 200 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6 (tel.: 613-993-0982; fax: 613-993-5204; email: FPR-RPP@dfo-mpo.gc.ca).”

So, if you don’t cite the Canada Gazetter, the date of publication, AND address it to Ray, they have every right to toss your comments in the trash. Be warned.

And in case you’re not going to read all these particular posted changes, the main issue they are seeking consultation on is review times for proponents who are undergoing “development” that has the potential to be harmful to fish. The proposed timelines are 60 days to notify the proponent that their application is complete and no additional information is required, and then 90 days from the time of notification that applications are complete to either authorize or refuse the proposed work. 5 months total. That should be pretty simple, since the department just cut 130 positions from the habitat program (the folks doing these reviews) and plans to absorb another $100 million in cuts over the next 3 years. This, despite recent work showing that review times on habitat authorizations weren’t taking very long before these changes.

If you think these proposed timelines are as fishy as they sound, I would encourage you to submit your comments to Mr. O’Flaherty.

And take note- you may need to actually work really hard as a member of the public to find out you’re being consulted with by the current government.

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6 thoughts on “This is public consultation?

  1. Nice to see you’re back! I was getting worried.
    I got a reply to a letter I sent to Keith Ashfield, wondered if you’d like to comment:

    Dear Mr. Morey:

    This is in response to your correspondence of February 21 and March 17, 2013, addressed to the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, concerning Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO’s) science publications. You provided me with a copy of your email for my consideration as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

    First, let me be perfectly clear – there has been no directions to any DFO officials not to publish findings of their work. DFO is a science-based department. Publishing and communicating scientific work is a crucial element of what the Department does. DFO’s record is solid on this matter.

    The Department publishes over 300 reports each year documenting the Government of Canada’s science research on Canada’s fisheries and oceans, and DFO’s scientists contribute as author or co-author, an even greater number of articles to books and scientific journals. Indeed, the Department’s objective is to get good peer reviewed science information into the public domain.

    The requirements for approval of the release of science articles are long standing and take place within DFO’s Science Sector typically by other senior scientists. This has not changed. One of the Department’s operating regions recently made minor modifications to its publication procedures. These modifications are meant to streamline the approval process, eliminate duplicative peer reviews and ensure that the Government of Canada’s intellectual property rights are safeguarded in third-party publications. In 2009, the Auditor General clearly articulated the federal government’s obligation to protect its intellectual property rights and interests, where they exist, in work producted by federal employees. DFO’s policies on the management of intellectual property and on publication of manuscripts are consistent with that obligation.

    DFO scientists take the issue of scientific integrity seriously, and so does the Department. Indeed, DFO policies and procedures are designed to promote scientific integrity and ensure that DFO scientists and their collaborators are able to publish their work in scientific journals in a timely fashion.

    Thank you for writing about this important matter.

    Yours sincerely,

    Original Signed by

    Keith Ashfield

    • Hi Natsnud,

      Yes, sorry for the delay in posting- it’s been a busy month.

      In response to the letter you got back- that’s how our managers are selling this- that it’s an improvement over previous iterations of the publication review process, and that it’s helping the department defend it’s intellectual property. The issue as I see it is that they aren’t leaving it to the scientists to do that. Prior to this policy, if I was involved in a collaboration that led to me being co-author on a paper, then it would be my responsibility as a co-author (and representative of the department on that collaboration) to ensure that the data are used and interpreted properly; by being a co-author, I’d say credit is given where it’s due and the intellectual property and rights of the department are acknowledged. However, under the new rules, it’s not me that’s making that call- it’s a manager, who wasn’t involved in the work.

      My greatest concern is that it leads the door open to interference in the process by administrators- all you need is one person on a power trip who decides they are going to make your life miserable and not release the copyright on a collaborative paper (or my own, for that matter, since the new rules say that I don’t have the right to sign the copyright on behalf of the department anymore).

      What Minister Ashfield doesn’t seem to appreciate is that the more direct responsibility you take away from your public servants, the more hog-tied and useless we all feel. It’s like we’re all preschoolers who require constant supervision because they’re worried we’ll smear peanut butter all over the walls. It does nothing to motivate your staff when you constantly remind them that you have very little trust in them or their abilities.

  2. The way I see it, this is the next step in a long slippery slope that will further restrict DFO researchers from publishing their scientific findings. The “minor modification” to present policy, as suggested by Minister Ashfield, will have long-lasting negative consequences for DFO researchers and their ability to collaborate. Secondly, it will not be long before permission to publish is moved up the long chain of DFO command. The first step is to make the managers that scientists report to directly responsible, but we can expect that soon this requirement will be passed up the line to regional directors, directors, assistant deputy ministers and so on. This is exactly what has happened for permission to attend conferences by DFO researchers (see earlier blog). This is certainly a first step to control the message – one can only wonder what the next “minor modification” will be?

  3. your search to find notification of the consultation process reminds me of a Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy scene…

    “But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

    “Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”

    “But the plans were on display …”

    “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

    “That’s the display department.”

    “With a flashlight.”

    “Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”

    “So had the stairs.”

    “But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”

    “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

    • Ha- this is great.

      So, if we are Arthur Dent and DFO is the local planning office, the logical extension, of course, is that Stephen Harper as Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, who is in the process of destroying the earth to make way for his intergalactic highway of bitumen pipelines. Bill C-38 and C-45 are his revolting poetry.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Pingback: How bad is it in other government departments? | unmuzzledscience

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