Silence from Science and Tech Museum as asbestos found

Silence from Science and Tech Museum as asbestos found

OTTAWA, ONT.:SEPT29/2010—Exteriors of the Museum of Science and Technology, whose management is proposing a move and construction of a major new building. -Photo by Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen- assgt #101737

Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger. Ottawa Citizen

A new report says asbestos, not just mould, is the problem at the Canada Science and Technology Museum — but officials aren’t discussing the problem publicly.

The museum closed Sept. 11 because of mould inside its south wall. It will remain closed at least until January.

But on Tuesday the local riding’s MP, Liberal David McGuinty, told the Citizen he has learned the mouldy wall is supporting a roof that contains asbestos, complicating the repairs.

Museum officials won’t discuss the situation.

The Citizen has been asking since the closing was announced on Sept. 11 for basic information about the nature of the problem, what needs to be done to fix it and the estimated cost.

But the museum has said repeatedly it doesn’t know enough to answer. On Tuesday its vice-president, Yves St-Onge, sent the Citizen an email saying that management won’t discuss the situation “as our assessments and plans remain incomplete at this time.”

The museum has turned down all requests for interviews.

The museum falls under the direction of Heritage Minister Shelly Glover. But her office said this week, also by email, that the minister isn’t really responsible: “With regards to our discussion on the phone this morning, I can tell you that like all museums, the Science and Technology Museum is responsible for its own operations, including its media relations activities. Any requests for interviews must be directed to the Museum’s staff. Have a good afternoon.”

And the Public Service Alliance of Canada says it knows what is going on but won’t tell. More email from a media officer: “I checked with the local at the Museum. They have been kept informed about the situation with the mould and have had positive relations with the museum’s management since this issue emerged. In view of this, we do not believe that it’s our position to be offering details to the media about the mould issue. The Museum should provide that information to the media and public directly. Sorry I can’t be of more help.”

We asked whether PSAC could simply share what its members have been told. Another email: “I’m afraid not.”

The federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation calls the situation “a complete abdication of responsibility” by authorities. The public owns the building and deserves to know what’s being down with it, said Gregory Thomas.

“Not only should we have this information, but we’re going to get this information sooner or later,” he said. “It doesn’t look good on the government or the minister or the union to be stonewalling like this.

Silence from Science and Tech Museum as asbestos found

“Ultimately the minister will be accountable to Parliament. Let’s hope the opposition does its job.”

“It’s completely unacceptable and it speaks to, I think, a complete abdication of responsibility on behalf of the government and the minister. They need to give their heads a shake and come clean to Canadians about what happened at the museum.”

At Carleton University, communications professor Mary Francoli notes that Canada was one of the first countries to join the Open Government movement, and its goal is “to make information available to the public by default.” The action plan around this hasn’t been completed.

The reality, she adds, “hasn’t always jived” with the intent. “We’re not there yet.”

“You can see information commissioner after information commissioner just talking about how dire things are in Canada.”

Francoli said she doesn’t understand the desire to keep quiet on this topic. She said it reminds her of the case a few years ago when the National Research Council refused to talk about its research on falling snow.

“Why isn’t anybody biting? It’s mould. It happens,” she said. “So I don’t know what they would be trying to hide about it, really. Maybe the cost, the extent. Maybe people are worried about the long-term health impact on the employees. I don’t know. It’s strange.”

McGuinty said the government has ignored the aging museum while pouring large amounts into renaming the Museum of History and commemorating the War of 1812.


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