Budget 2012 continued: Has the Conservative government declared war on the environment?
The Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert said on CBC’s At Issue panel last night that the Conservative Budget 2012 (announced yesterday) was the worst environmental budget she had seen in her 20 years working on Parliament Hill. Remember that Hebert is not exactly an environmental radical – she is a respected pundit who is somewhat moderate in her views in fact.
I already discussed the government’s intention to eliminate the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (see post below). More attacks on the environment in the budget include:
- The government has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for Environment Canada, along with grants for scientific research in universities. It also used Thursday’s budget to launch an $8 million campaign at Revenue Canada to investigate and crack down on environmental groups and other charities that do research and analysis on conservation issues and sustainable development.
- Climate change is mentioned only twice in passing in the entire 498 page budget plan.
- Environment Canada’s budget is being cut again, this time by 6%. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is in line for a 40 per cent cut in the new budget year.
- Touting a ‘one project, one review’ principle, the CEAA is up for an overhaul with some responsibilities being downloaded on provinces, newly imposed timelines and a limiting of the scope of reviews. Joint panel environmental reviews are to be limited to 24 months, National Energy Board hearings to 18 months and standard environmental assessments to one year. This will jeopardize peoples’ capacity to participate in reviews and further undermines the ultimate goal of reviews in ensuring environmental protection is a priority in all projects – even if this means refusing to approve certain projects.
- Does anyone doubt that the “streamlining” (read gutting) of environmental review processes has something to do with getting tar sands oil to market as fast as possible through the construction of pipeline projects like the highly controversial Keystone XL to the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Gateway to the coast of B.C.? As Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in his Budget speech “…it has become clear that we must develop new export markets for Canada’s energy and natural resources, to reduce our dependence on markets in the United States. The booming economies of the Asia- Pacific region are a huge and increasing source of demand, but Canada is not the only country to which they can turn. If we fail to act now, this historic window of opportunity will close.”
- The budget does not renew funding for the EcoENERGY energy efficiency program.
- Budget 2012 does give minimal tax support to ‘clean energy’ and energy efficiency, to the tune of $2 million.
- According to Andrea Harden-Donohue of Rabble.ca $1.38 billion a year is allocated to energy development through subsidies. Some changes are planned for subsidies to the oil and gas industry on Canada’s East coast but tar sands subsidies remain untouched.
What to make of all this? Does this budget amount to what is ostensibly a government declaration of war on environmental advocacy groups in Canada? Perhaps Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre put it best when he summarized the budget this way: “In a budget that seems to have been written for, and even by, big oil interests, the Harper government is gutting the environmental protections that Canadians have depended on for decades to safeguard our families and nature from pollution, toxic contamination and other environmental problems.” Read their full statement.