November 2008

Making the case for greater investment in Canada's geological services

By M. Kerawala

Vast swathes of Canada’s immense landmass, especially in the North, remain geologically unmapped. For a country whose most significant assets are its natural resources, this can be a crippling shortcoming. To close some of the gaps in geological information, the federal government recently announced increased funding for northern geological mapping. Welcoming this move, most earth scientists feel that it does not go far enough.

Ian Young and Bill Mercer, the president and president-elect, respectively, of the Canadian Federation of Earth Scientists, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister on September 28, 2008. Their objective was two-fold — to acknowledge the government’s move and to demonstrate that spending in this area, although increased, remains inadequate.

 Young and Mercer make the case for detailed, comprehensive and accurate geological information as a prerequisite for informed decision-making by government and industry. They condemn the decline in spending on geological information management and note that the Geological Survey of Canada is a much smaller entity than its comparable counterparts. For instance, they write that the Australian Geological Survey has staff strength equal to our own, but their budget is over 1.8 times as large, despite the fact that Australia is only two-thirds the size of Canada. Considering landmass and population, even  small countries like Denmark do much better than Canada.

Another distressing trend that Young and Mercer call attention to is the shortage of skilled personnel. While increased mapping activity will call for more trained staff, the reality is that Canada does not train enough new geologists. Moreover, existing earth scientists in our universities and government organizations are an aging group. To redress this situation, they call for an increase in the numbers of students majoring in earth science fields, strategies to encourage scientific education among aboriginal youth and changes in immigration policies to allow foreign-trained scientists easier entry into the field. The letter closes by congratulating the government for taking a positive step.

The entire letter can be viewed at

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