The geologist vs. The New Government of Canada

We Americans are often ignorant of our neighbor to the north, so I really value listening to the CBC show As It Happens on my local NPR station. I was listening today when I heard the story of one Dr. Andrew Okulitch, a scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada. Dr. Okulitch was in the news because he was fired recently – not for bad science or poor performance, but for ridiculing the conservative government's motto.

The Geological Survey, along with presumably the rest of the offices in the Canadian government, was sent a memo requiring them to stop saying they worked for the government of Canada, or the Canadian government, or anything sensible like that. Instead, they were to leave no letterhead untouched, changing all references to “The New Government of Canada�.

Canada's conservatives recently took power for the first time in years.  Some welcome the change, saying taxes are too high. Others, I'm sure were not so happy - the election was pretty close.

Either way, I think we can all agree that “The New Government of Canada� is a silly bit of fluff thought up by a marketer whose last job was trying to convince the 12-year-old male demographic that Diet Mountain Dew is extreme without alienating the coveted 12-year-old-poor-body-image female demographic. What happens after the next election – is it still new? If the left wins the next one, is it the New New Government, the New Old Government, the Old-Skool-Cause-I'm-So-Cool government?

Back to the matter at hand: as a U.S. Citizen I have been pretty astounded at our Republican party's ability to do two things – deftly craft soundbites, slogans, and catchphrases that cheapen the level of public discourse, and ignore science or, well, any kind of factual information when it was inconvenient. Not to say the Democrats don't try for that first one, but come on-the current administration is brilliant. Our president not only said Iran, Iraq and North Korea were an “axis of evil,� but at one point he had half the country saying it as if it wasn't bizarre comic book gibberish.

It looks to me like the Canadian conservatives might just be trying the same tactic, and here they've gone two-for-two – they have actually fired a scientist for pointing out that their brand name was silly and pointless. He replied to the memo mandating the change, saying:

"While this ridiculous and embarrassing policy is in effect, I shall use Geological Survey of Canada on my departmental correspondence to avoid any connection with the new government."

The next thing he knew he was fired.

In the CBC interview, Okulitch did not seem too bitter about the dismissal. He was working as a scientist emeritus, a position where retired scientists can continue working for not additional pay after they have retired. That's right, they fired a scientist, one with numerous publications under his belt, who was already basically volunteering his time and expertise.

Scientists, like engineers, programmers, writers, artists, and other professionals in other industries, are the ones who actually create value. Apple, Disney, and others might value their brand equity in the billions of dollars, but fire all the people who actually create the products, write the software, and come up with the breakthroughs, and you will have a whole lot of nothing. Disney learned this pretty late and had to buy Pixar. Canada might not have that option.

Geologists, in particular, are not ivory-tower, head-in-the-cloud theorists. Without these guys we don't find oil and we find seismic faults by building cities on top of them and waiting.

After I heard the story I went to Google and did a web search, news search, and blog search. I wasn't until my second try that I got any results on this story, on the CBC web site. I'm writing this because I think this is a bad sign, and perhaps as a less-interested outside party our Canadian friends will listen to me: this is a very, very bad sign.

Those of you who have worked for a few different companies know this – when arbitrary, pointless decisions about letterhead start to interfere with the work your scientists, engineers, or programmers are trying to do, it's time to get the resume up to date. When a productive employee complains about it and is fired, it's time to run. That company is SOL. Run like hell.

  1. i found my way here from i would’ve hated to have missed this story. canada’s “new government” is fixated on the newspeak. luckily for canadians, they’ll shoot keep shooting themselves in the foot with unregistered firearms until they’re so lame they can no longer cluck.

    September 19th, 2006 at 10:29 am
  2. After a year up here, I don’t even think AIH is the best the CBC has to offer. But DEFINITELY, Americans are way too ignorant of Canada. However, I have learned that Canadians are too ignorant of the US too. That border is too damn thick. Too few social and other connections across it, given how long it is and how much the two nations have in common.

    Sandwich Repairman
    September 20th, 2006 at 7:27 pm
  3. The election really had more to do with the ethical problems, corruption and stuff, with the Liberals. That kind of thing tends to fester and ferment in a party that’s held power for 13 years. Though the Liberals are more or less centrists–liberal in a weird “classical” or libertarian sense, not the American sense. I learned fast that up here, I cannot call myself a liberal. (First of all, people think you’re saying Liberal, which I am not) In Canada, I am a progressive. Or a Green or New Democrat. The American right may like to slam the left for using progressive as a way to hide from liberal, but I’ve realized that the words really do have different meanings.

    I really do think that the nonsense committed by the Bush Administration has given Harper’s government cover, or at least rationalization and emboldenment (is that a word?) to replicate similar crap. They’re a minority government though, with less than 40% of the seats in the House of Commons. It won’t take more than a few months to get new elections called.

    Sandwich Repairman
    September 20th, 2006 at 7:59 pm
  4. Many thanks to all you north and south of the “undefended” border (but not for much longer) who wrote in support of my stand against politicization of the Public Service. On 19 Sep 06, I was reinstated by the minister of my department. More importantly, several vital principles were upheld regarding respectful treatment of employees. Sure, media glare contributed to the speedy action, but there are some good people up there too. Now we can all get back to work.


    Andrew Okulitch

    andrew okulitch
    September 26th, 2006 at 7:20 pm
  5. When did so many Canucks get on this website? As a red blooded American it’s my duty to take this weblog back. You Canadians are too polite, very unamerican. You need to write more things like Bloody Cunt Fart thats why we have the first amendment

    D Wallz
    September 27th, 2006 at 11:15 am

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