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NEWS: Harper plans major cuts to climate change, environmental spending

News agencies are reporting that the Harper government plans to spend about $10 billion less next year than it did last year. Postmedia News reports that, “The Harper government is projecting (a $1.6 billion cut) to several of its environmental initiatives (across the different federal departments), including climate change and clean air, over the next year, according to newly released federal estimates.”

This includes:

  1. “…a $222-million or 20% reduction in spending at Environment Canada.”
  2. “…Environment Canada (cuts) 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 (4%) in reductions for compliance promotion and enforcement for wildlife and pollution.”
  3. “Natural Resources Canada is estimating a $928-million (21%) 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.”
  4. “But the biggest changes appear to be the 59% 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.'”
  5. Another Postmedia report highlights, “The overall decline in spending is largely due to a decrease in transfer payments of $7.4 billion, which includes a $2.6-billion drop in employment insurance transfers to individuals…”

The Globe and Mail adds that, “Infrastructure-related spending takes the biggest hit as the stimulus ends, but cuts are also forecast for environmental, cultural and social programs. Meanwhile, government-wide spending on ‘security and public safety’ programs is in line for a 10.1-per-cent boost, and justice and legal programs will receive a 4.8-per-cent increase.” Those security and public safety spending increases, as reported by Postmedia, include, “Correctional Service Canada, which oversees the country’s prisons, will see its budget increased $521 million, or more than 21 per cent. The Canada Border Services Agency is forecast to spend $227 million more than last year, an increase of 14 per cent.”

In an effort to placate, Environment Minister Peter Kent has said, “that while several big programs are scheduled to ‘sunset’, he has asked Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to renew them in the budget later this month.” Similarly, “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.” Still, that’s hard to square with the already-announced spending increases on security and public safety.

A report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in December 2009 – during the Copenhagen climate summit – found that in Canada spending on National Defence is twenty times that of federal Environment Department spending. In 2009-10, National Defence spending was $21.185 billion, an increase of $1.8 billion over the previous year, whereas the Department of the Environment was allocated $1.064 billion.

An Environics poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians, KAIROS, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Common Frontiers, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Toronto Bolivia Solidarity Committee in October 2010 found that 71 percent of Canadians strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement: “The money spent on wars and the military would all be better spent on efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change.”

In terms of the cuts to infrastructure spending, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that Canadian communities need $31 billion to upgrade and develop new water and wastewater infrastructure. The Council of Canadians and CUPE have been calling on the federal government to provide funding to support publicly-owned and operated infrastructure through a national water infrastructure fund.

And with cuts to infrastructure and climate change spending, a CBC report this morning is all the more significant. CBC reports that, “An increase in extreme rainstorms brought on by climate change could set the stage for a return of cholera to North America, according to a world-renowned water scientist. …The erratic weather of the 21st century worries Rita Colwell, a professor on water-related public health issues at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. ‘Perhaps if we have a breakdown in sewage treatment plants with severe weather patterns that this can then bring us to a risk of cholera, which we haven’t had for over a hundred years,’ said Colwell… Colwell cited the July 2010 floods in Milwaukee, where the city’s sewage system backed up and more than two billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water poured into the streets.”

The Postmedia reports are at http://www.canada.com/business/Federal+government+environmental+spending/4367709/story.html and http://www.montrealgazette.com/Federal+spending+drop+this+year/4366503/story.html. The Globe and Mail report is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-turns-off-stimulus-taps-saves-10-billion/article1924899/. The CBC report is at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/03/01/water-conference-cholera.html.