Many archaeologists in North America are aware of the Canadian government’s recently proposed cuts to Parks Canada archaeology. The cuts are being portrayed by government as part of a necessary process to reduce the Canadian deficit, but I think the proposed cuts are at least as much political as they are economic. I believe the cuts to archaeology are part of both a reduced federal focus on science in general and part of the re-imagining of Canadian history, in which archaeology has a diminishing role.
It is difficult to get precise figures on the proposed cuts, but there is a general sense that there will be about an 80 percent reduction in Parks Canada archaeologists and conservators. Regional labs across the country will be closed with all artifacts being centralized in Ottawa. Indications are that the proposed cuts will reduce the total number of Parks Canada archaeologists to 12 and conservators to eight, which is more than a bit ridiculous when considering they are responsible for the archaeology at 167 national historic sites and dozens of national parks ( including world heritage sites), and millions of artifacts. There will be two Parks Canada archaeologists for all of western Canada, and one for all of the Canadian Arctic. The entire education and outreach program is to be scrapped. The excellent archaeology publication program will presumably be severely affected as well.
“Tim Hortons” is a popular donut place in Canada. Kevin King, a vice-president of the Union of National Employees has been widely quoted as saying “There’ll be more people working in any given Tim Hortons than there will be field archaeologists remaining in the country….”
Understandably there have been responses to the proposed cuts from the major associations of professional archaeologists in North America. A letter to the Prime Minister of Canada from the Canadian Archaeological Association describes the cuts as “draconian”, points out that the cuts do not even make business sense, and state the reductions severely undermine the ability of Parks Canada to fulfill its mandate.
A letter from the Society for American Archaeology to the Prime Minister recognizes that “Parks Canada enjoys a well-deserved global reputation as a Heritage service” and describes the proposed cuts as “a defacto shutdown of Parks Canada archaeology.” The letter also questions how Parks Canada will be able to accomplish its mission to educate the public and protect Canada’s archaeological record, and notes where similar kinds of cuts have occurred in the U.S. they have been counterproductive.
A letter to the Prime Minister from the Society for Historical Archaeology begins with the recognition that “Parks Canada has an enviable reputation as one of the leading agencies in heritage management in the world…on the verge of changing in a dramatic and irreversible manner.” The letter also focuses on the social value of Parks Canada archaeology and indicates that the cuts are especially “demoralizing” at this time as the society is holding its 2014 conference in Quebec City. The proposed cuts will reduce the number of Parks Canada archaeologists in Quebec region from 12 to one.
There is much to consider when contextualizing the cuts. They are packaged in an omnibus federal budget bill (Bill C-38) over 450 pages in length, and which in general terms, or at least in my opinion, may be described as business-friendly at the expense of the environment, natural resources, First Nations issues, arts and culture. And it isn’t only the jobs of Parks Canada archaeologists that will be affected. The government announced that almost 4,000 public service jobs would be affected, but it was surprising to many that 44 percent of those would be from within Parks Canada.
I, quite simply, don’t buy the cuts as a method of reducing the federal deficit. As outlined in the letter from the Canadian Archaeological Association, the cuts don’t make business sense. Parks Canada brings in far more money than its operational costs. I also find it interesting that while the cuts to Parks Canada archaeology are on the table to save a bit of money; on May 25th the federal Minister for Parks Canada announced a commitment of over 140 million dollars to create a new urban park in Greater Toronto. The impression I’m getting is that that Parks Canada just isn’t much interested in the past anymore.
I think the reduction of Parks Canada archaeologists can be contextualized within what appears to be an anti-scientific sentiment among government officials in recent years. A May 13th story in the Ottawa Citizen, for example, describes federal cuts in Canada’s primary science funding agency, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, as a “disaster” for Canadian science, and there have been reports of the government muzzling government scientists, especially when it comes to reporting research on fisheries and the environment which may not favor the business community.
The cuts to Parks Canada archaeology may also be contextualized in regard to what is becoming the increasingly obvious attempt by the Canadian government to re-imagine, re-make, and re-create, a new image or mythology about Canada’s past. Over the past few years the government has been exhibiting a tendency to do a make-over of Canadian history, downplaying First Nations heritage and Canadians as peace-keepers, and re-focusing on Canada as a military power. Thus, less money for archaeology and more to celebrate war.
There is still a chance that all the proposed cuts and other changes to Parks Canada archaeology may not happen. The writing, however, is on the wall. Parks Canada archaeology is unlikely to ever again be the excellent model for heritage research, management, conservation, education, and publication it once was; and that’s a shame.
Those wishing a summary of the proposed cuts and related news are directed to archaeologist Tim Rast’s twitter feed (@ElfShot) and his blog http://elfshotgallery.blogspot.ca/ (especially his May 16th post summarizing the cuts), as well as the Facebook page of the Canadian Archaeological Association (https://www.facebook.com/CanadianArchaeologicalAssociation) .
Robert Muckle has been practicing, teaching, and writing about archaeology for more than 20 years. He has had his own CRM firm, worked extensively with Indigenous peoples, and directed many field projects. Publications include Introducing Archaeology and Reading Archaeology, both published by the University of Toronto Press. He has archaeological field experience in both the United States and Canada, continues to direct field projects in the summer months, and is based at Capilano University. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
It is difficult to get precise figures on the proposed cuts, but there is a general sense that there will be about an 80 percent reduction in Parks Canada archaeologists and conservators. Regional labs across the country will be closed with all artifacts being centralized in Ottawa. Indications are that the proposed cuts will reduce the total number of Parks Canada archaeologists to 12 and conservators to eight, which is more than a bit ridiculous when considering they are responsible for the archaeology at 167 national historic sites and dozens of national parks ( including world heritage sites), and millions of artifacts.