Researchers suffering death by 1,000 cuts, critics charge TIM NAUMETZ

For Southern Newspapers, Ottawa (M19/July/99)

Federal penny-pinching to recover the cost of collecting a vast array of information is hindering university research and stifling computer-age business ventures in Canada, critics say. The cost of obtaining electronic topographical maps, census information and CDs containing government information has become prohibitive for graduate schools, says James Boxall, map curator at Dalhousie University in Halifax-

Boxall and Andrew Hubbertz, senior researcher and librarian at the University of Saskatchewan, note university researchers and businesses in late United States can obtain the same land of information from the U.S. government almost free of charge, paying only shipping and handling fees.

This gives American researchers, universities and marketing companies a significant advantage over Canadian institutions, the officials say.

Hubbertz said the spiral to high costs for federal information began after 1986, when the former Conservative government of Brian Mulroney implemented cost-recovery fees for access to census information. The Chretien Liberals then imposed user fees and cost recovery on an array of federal services that had previously been free or low-cost to the public.

Hubbertz and Boxall say citizens are being forced to pay for government information twice - once through taxes that fund the collection of the information and again through cost- recovery fees to obtain it Boxall says some electronic data, such as topographical maps of cities or limited atmospheric or geological information, may only cost between $100 and $200 to obtain from a government department

But when a university graduate school is attempting to develop an extensive research program, the costs mount. At the same time, because of earlier federal cuts to social programs, universities are hiking tuition fees and reducing budgets. "It's the death by 1,000 cuts," Boxall said.

Hubbertz, through Access to Information Act requests and his own research, found that in 1996 Environment Canada collected $86,266 for compact disc sales of its monthly meteorological record. But the costs of creating the original disc was $292,000. A spokesperson for the federal Treasury Board, which oversees and manages the Canadian government's cost- recovery program, said the government is currently reviewing the program for possible modifications.