Environment Canada ‘surplus’ is Ryerson’s gain

Michael Arts, who was formerly at Environment Canada, is the newest addition to the department of chemistry and biology. (Rebecca Sedore/Ryersonian Staff)

Michael Arts, who was formerly at Environment Canada, is the newest addition to the department of chemistry and biology. (Rebecca Sedore/Ryersonian Staff)

Ryerson’s newest chemistry and biology professor is speaking up about being “surplused” out of his job with Environment Canada.

Before joining Ryerson in January, Michael Arts was a research scientist for 24 years at Environment Canada. Arts is only one of the 20 scientists whose positions were recently “surplused” from the Canada Centre for Inland Waters.

“I am delighted to start this new phase of my professional career at Ryerson University and I am very much looking forward to teaching, meeting and mentoring undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students,” he said.

Arts will start teaching in the fall of 2014 and his research laboratory will be ready within the next year. His research at Ryerson will focus on the effects of climate warming on aquatic ecosystems and urban water quality.
Before being surplused, meaning that his research would no longer be funded or required, Arts was one of the lucky few given a “guaranteed reasonable job offer” from the government. He didn’t take the offer because it was not in his area of specialization.

“My true love is to work on the essential fatty acids that are found in aquatic organisms, primarily produced by algae … but there’s various threats to their production and distribution on this planet,” Arts said. “And that’s what I’m really interested in, looking at some of those threats, like climate change, contaminants and exotic species.”

During his time at CCIW, Arts faced issues such as a decrease in his authority with spending grant money and hiring help for his lab. He also had more requests from his employer to shift mandates in his research. He says all this resulted in an increasingly negative atmosphere at work, which occurred over a number of years.

“There’s a lot of discussion about it and the frustration that’s bubbling around in the background with all government scientists at various levels,” Arts said.

Environment Canada has come under fire over the years for cutting funds to groups that are responsible for climate change research, air quality monitoring and smoke stack emissions. Most recently, the closure of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ libraries has scientists and the public worried that important research could be lost. According to the CBC’s The Fifth Estate documentary Silence of the Labs, the federal government has discharged more than 2,000 scientists over the past five years.

“I really thought I was doing good work for Environment Canada — and I was well-funded,” he said. “All these thing led me to believe that my employer valued my work, but when I got that letter saying I was ‘affected’ and ‘surplused,’ it was kind of like being hit with a baseball bat.”

Arts says there are other researchers and professors at the university who used to work for the government.

“They haven’t spoken up — yet,” he said. “And in my opinion they should speak up … that’s how change occurs,” he said.

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