Federal government to cut environmental spending

By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News
March 1, 2011 5:02 PM

OTTAWA — The Harper government is projecting some major cuts to several of its environmental initiatives, including climate change and clean air, over the next year, according to newly released federal estimates.

The numbers, released Tuesday by the Treasury Board Secretariat, show a 59 per cent cut in global-warming and air-pollution spending as part of more than $1.6 billion in annual, governmentwide reductions to environmental services across the different federal departments. The shift is the equivalent to a 14 per cent reduction in spending that also includes a $222-million or 20 per cent reduction in spending at Environment Canada.

Natural Resources Canada is estimating a $928-million (21 per cent) decrease in its spending for the next year, including a $390-million decrease in spending due to the end of a popular retrofit program that subsidized homeowners for renovations that reduce energy consumption and utility bills.

"There's a lot of movement between programs, so check the websites themselves to see where that is," said Treasury Board President Stockwell Day at a news conference outlining government spending cuts.

Other funding cuts at Environment Canada include a $19.5-million reduction related to the government winding down an action plan to deal with contaminated federal sites, as well as about $3 million (four per cent) in reductions for compliance promotion and enforcement for wildlife and pollution.

Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson confirmed that "temporary funding" for a number of department programs would expire on March 31, but he indicated that new funding was still a possibility.

"These programs are following the renewal process," Johnson wrote in an email. "In other words, the extension or enhancement of their temporary funding is subject to government decisions. Once approved, funding amounts will be included in the Supplementary Estimates to be tabled later this year."

But the biggest changes appear to be the 59 per cent reduction for annual climate-change and clean-air initiatives to $99 million from $240 million. According to the department, these measures "served to inform Canada's domestic regulatory approach to greenhouse gas emissions, provide a platform to deepen engagement with the U.S. on climate change issues and enhance Canada's visibility as an international leader in clean energy technology."

Gillian McEachern, the program manager for climate and energy at Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based research and advocacy group, said the numbers fly in the face of the government's pledges to improve air quality, address greenhouse gas emissions and implement a world-class monitoring system to crack down on pollution from the oilsands sector of Alberta.

"At a time when we've sent our diplomats out to fan around the world trying to convince other countries that we're doing a good job at environmental management and shouldn't be penalized for the dirty carbon content of tarsands oil, we have to question what message this budget sends to those countries," McEachern said.

She said it also raises doubts about pledges from Environment Minister Peter Kent to introduce new industrial regulations by the end of the year.

"If they're cutting the departmental budget by 60 per cent, we have to question who's going to be around to write the regulations," she said.

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