The Conservative government is getting another tongue-lashing from scientists over its latest cut to federally funded research.
This time, it's the Experimental Lakes Area getting the ax.
The program used a region of 58 freshwater lakes near Kenora, in western Ontario, where scientists conducted experiments on the effects of pollution. It was included in budget cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.
Some 40 department employees, including biologists, chemists and other scientists, will be laid off at its Winnipeg regional office, the Free Press said.
The program is no longer "aligned with the department's mandate and is not responding to our research priorities," federal officials said, adding Ottawa hopes universities and provincial governments will pick up the slack to fund continued work.
"It makes more sense to allow it to be owned and operated by those who will benefit from this unique research facility," Erin Filliter, spokeswoman for federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, told the Free Press.
CBC News reported the cuts will affect 13 full-time staff at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg but also affect up to 50 other scientists who did seasonal research.
"The department will continue to conduct freshwater research in various locations across Canada in response to departmental needs," Fisheries spokeswoman Melanie Carkner told CBC via email.
The Environmental Lakes Area program was launched in 1968 and led to important discoveries about the effects of pollutants such as phosphates in household detergents and mercury on bodies of fresh water, prompting tighter regulation in Canada and the U.S.
It's also known internationally for research on issues such as acid rain, climate change and the impact of fish farming, CBC reported.
The government's decision sparked outrage in the international research community.
"I was pretty shocked," Harvard University aquatic sciences professor Elsie Sunderland told the Free Press. "This is one of the foremost research projects and places to do research in the world. To have it shut down is just appalling. It's just embarrassing."
"I was stunned," said Cynthia Gilmour, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland.
"The ELA has contributed to environmental policy for 40 years, and the long-term records alone on temperature and ice cover are absolutely invaluable."
The Conservative government has been taking flak regularly for issuing pink slips to federal scientists and various research programs that critics say undermine Canada's reputation as a home for environmental research.
Environment Minister Peter Kent tabled a report this month warning that Canada is risking its ability to counter ecological threats and protect ecosystems, Postmedia News reported.