The Harper government’s next federal budget will be delivered on March 22, World Water Day. Perhaps because of this, environment minister Peter Kent highlighted how his government ‘is tackling water concerns’ at the Canadian Water Network conference in Ottawa last week.
Postmedia News reports that, “The federal government is tackling Canada’s water concerns by developing several programs and regulations that will help with water quality monitoring, restoring lakes and treating waste water, Environment Minister Peter Kent said at a news conference Thursday. …Kent promised that ‘significant investments’ will be made so that officials can carry out monitoring and clean up in problem areas while new regulations will protect fresh water resources. …He said the government has already spent over $140 million on water-related problems in 2010. About 400 watersheds across the country are monitored for quality. Officials will move to unveil new regulations later this year to deal with untreated waste water. Funding will be poured into plans to provide water services to First Nations communities and to restore Lake Winnipeg, Lake Simcoe and several areas of the Great Lakes. Another $2.5 million over the next five years will also be allotted to helping the United Nations’ environmental programs on international water issues, Kent said.”
Let’s look at this news report a bit more closely.
1. Help with water quality monitoring? The responsibility for monitoring water quantity and quality is shared between the federal and provincial governments, but inadequate funding and lack of coordination have led to gaps and inconsistencies in information. The 2010 Alternative Federal Budget called for $325 million over three years for 1) the development of an overarching water quality and water quantity monitoring frameworks to assist provinces and communities; 2) an increase in monitoring stations; and 3) training for staff in water monitoring. After years of the tar sands polluting water and the Harper government sticking to discredited Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, the government is only now promising to better monitor water in this area – with actions yet to be seen.
2. Restore Lake Winnipeg, Lake Simcoe, and several areas of the Great Lakes? Since 2008, the Harper Government has offered just $15 million to clean up Lake Simcoe, and has recently announced another $4.1 million in restoration funding. Harper has promised $17 million to clean up Lake Winnipeg, but only a fraction of that money has been spent. The last federal budget allocated a mere $8 million a year to Environment Canada to ‘implement its action plan to protect the Great Lakes’. At the same time, the US Congress had authorized $475 million to be spent on cleaning up the Great Lakes, and last year US President Barack Obama proposed another $300 million into this program.
3. Treat wastewater? It has been estimated that the new federal wastewater regulations would cost $20 billion over 30 years. Vancouver would need about $2 billion in investments to meet the proposed standards, for Laval, Quebec it would cost $250 million. But the Harper government has offered no new funding for municipalities for this. The only federal source of funding remains the Building Canada Fund, which is grossly insufficient to meet the basic needs for water and sanitation upgrades (estimated at $31 billion), let alone the new requirements of the proposed regulations.
4. Provide water services to First Nations communities? The Council of Canadians and the Assembly of First Nations has been highly critical of S-11, the way the Conservatives say they will provide water services to First Nations communities. The AFN has stated that, “Bill S-11…does not include a plan to reduce the unacceptably high numbers or the duration of First Nations drinking water advisories; does not help to license operators; does not provide resources to improve operations and maintenance; does not lower the number of water and wastewater treatment systems currently at risk; and could negatively impact First Nations water rights.”
5. Help the UN environmental programs on international water issues? For 30 years Canada hosted the Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS), assessing more than 3,000 freshwater sites around the world and supplying 24 UN agencies with vital information upon which to build and assess water policy. The 2009 Alternative Federal Budget called for $2.2 million per year of funding for GEMS, but that year the Harper government opted to fund GEMS at a rate of $500,000 per year for five years. The Harper government has even failed to acknowledge its obligations now that the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have recognized water and sanitation as human rights.
6. New regulations to protect freshwater resources? Schedule 2 is a loophole in the Metal Mining Effluent Regulation of the federal Fisheries Act that allows metal mining corporations to use lakes and rivers as toxic dump sites. Once added to Schedule 2, healthy freshwater lakes lose all environmental protections. The Harper government has put at risk at least a dozen freshwater lakes in Canada with this regulation, and has given no indication that it is about to close this loophole.
The Council of Canadians will be closely monitoring the Harper government’s budget with respect to water this March 22. Considering its shameful track record, and the fact that it just announced it would cut $1.6 billion in environmental spending, while increasing its spending by $521 million on prisons and another $227 on border security, there is little to no reason to believe the Harper government will now take the appropriate actions needed for water.
To read the water chapter of the AFB 2010, go to http://canadians.org/water/documents/AFB-2010-water.pdf. Our chapter in the AFB 2011 will be released just prior to the Harper government’s budget. Today’s Postmedia News article can be read at http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Ottawa+committed+improving+water+quality+Canadians+minister/4380029/story.html.