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Lakes scientists ‘surplus’ to fisheries ministry requirements

Researchers at the Experimental Lakes Area have received letters from Fisheries and Oceans Canada declaring their positions to be “surplus”, and offering them jobs elsewhere in the ministry, Research Canada has learned.

The letters were expected, as the government department has ended funding for the environmental research station and is working to transfer ownership of the facility to the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development. But the timing of the letters could make it difficult for the institute to retain any of the facility’s scientific staff.

The letters provide a “guaranteed job offer” elsewhere in Fisheries and Oceans, but no specific job descriptions are provided. Staff have until 8 January to decide whether to accept. If they turn down the offer, they will lose their jobs, and not receive any severance pay. The institute is keen to keep as many of the scientific staff as possible, but is unable to make firm job offers until negotiations are concluded, which is likely to be several months away.

Diane Orihel, co-founder of the Save the ELA lobby group, says there was some discussion last year that ELA staff could be seconded to the institute during the transition, but nothing came of it. If the majority of the staff take the department’s offer, the facility’s new operator will lose out on years of experience and specialised knowledge, she says.

"Evidently, the Harper government has done nothing to help transition the ELA science team to a potential new operator. There will virtually be no one left in the ELA science team for the institute to offer jobs to, if a final agreement is indeed reached in the future," says Orihel. "Never before in ELA’s history has the science team been decimated in this way. There has always been substantial overlap between generations of researchers, which has ensured the continuity of the science and transfer of highly specialised knowledge," she says.