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Canadian archaeology and the age of austerity

Canadian maple leaf 2

A withering maple leaf? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is an essential tension that exists between industry and government:  they regulate us and sometimes they compete with us.  When you ask many business professionals about government, even in Canada, the usual response is that there is too much of it.

There is truth to this. It seems that the only cap on the growth of bureaucracy is taxpayers, and therefore, recent promises by the Federal and some provincial governments to reduce the size of government seemed at best, too little and too late.  However, while in age of austerity you can really make smart strategic cuts in expenditures, governments are inevitably drawn to the stupid.

The Government of Canada is cutting ten percent off the top of most departments, and a few percentage points more off ones they really don’t like (like the public broadcaster, the CBC). All departments have been asked to declare positions as redundant and thousands of letters have gone out: “your position has been classified as surplus, have a nice day.” This will be followed by a drawn out period of horse trading, interdepartmental moves, and such, with the result that the actual number of positions lost will not be known for some time.

Somewhat to the surprise of the heritage movement, given the federal government attention to promoting the historic battles of 1812, is that government has decided that it really does not like conservators and archaeologists and has decided to close all of the regional labs across the country. As one comment on the Canadian Archaeological Association Facebook page notes “There (will be) more people employed in a single Tim Hortons than are employed by Parks Canada nationally to preserve and care for millions of archeological historic objects in storage and on display.”

Tim Rast in his blog “Elfshot” has a detailed breakdown of the cuts. It does not take a math major to see that they are slightly higher than ten percent. It should be noted that these are projected, and not necessarily the final, numbers:

British Columbia:

  • 2 of 2 cultural heritage positions affected or lost

Calgary, Alberta:

  • Lab Closing, 10 of 14 cultural heritage positions affected or lost

Winnipeg, Manitoba:

  • Lab Closing, 7 of 10 cultural heritage positions affected or lost

Cornwall, Ontario:

  • Lab Closing, 8 of 9 cultural heritage positions affected or lost

Ottawa, Ontario:

  • Material Culture Section; 5 of 5 positions affected or lost

Quebec City, Quebec:

  • Lab Closing, 26 of 27 cultural heritage positions affected or lost

Halifax, Nova Scotia:

  • Lab Closing 8 of 12 archaeologists lost

Conservation:

  • Parks Canada conservators reduced from 33 to 8

Could Parks Canada withstand a ten percent cut? Sure, but this is not that.  Parks Canada has incredible conservation labs and they have been leaders in the area of historic archaeology and underwater archaeology. Not surprisingly. one of the first letters of protest came from the Society for Historical Archaeology.  So yes, they are an important resource for the heritage industry and the loss of this expertise will be widespread. Labs which are closed are hard to reopen.

The story is not fully written. We can hope that the cuts will be reduced, but some facilities will be lost. The irony is that many of these positions directly support a healthy tourism business and so, in a sense, were revenue positive. And this is why government is not a business.

As I was writing this, the Canadian Archaeological Association has asked all archaeologists to lobby against these changes.

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  1. June 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    To whom should we be lobbying? Can you please provide email addresses for any/all contacts?

  2. Jim Finnigan
    June 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    These are suggested by the Canadian Archaeological Association:

    Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: pm@pm.gc.ca
    Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment: minister@ec.gc.ca
    James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages: james.moore@parl.gc.ca
    Alan Latourelle, Chief Executive Officer, Parks Canada: alan.latourelle@pc.gc.ca

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