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Water funding in federal budget a mirage

Photo of Desert Mirage by Brocken Inaglory fracwa

On the eve of Earth Day, the Conservative government tabled what they boasted to be a balanced budget, even naming the budget Strong Leadership: A Balanced Budget, Low-Tax Plan for Jobs, Growth and Security.

Yet the budget has been criticized as a ‘vote-buying’ budget that dips into the contingency fund to just barely balance the books. The budget fails to adequately allocate funding needed for environmental protections, First Nations and sustainable jobs.

The report On Notice for a Drinking Water Crisis highlights the 1,838 drinking water advisories in place as of January 2015. There are routinely over 100 drinking water advisories in First Nation communities with half of the advisories in place for over 5 years and a number of them in place for  over 10-15 years. In Blue Betrayal, Maude Barlow details how the Harper government has gutted environmental and water protections in recent years. 99% of the lakes and rivers were delisted from the Navigable Waters Protection Act while the Fisheries Act was gutted in a way where it longer protects fish.

The water crises in Brazil, California and Taiwan show how vital clean water is and how important it is to safeguard water now, not when communities run out.

In the Alternative Federal Budget 2015: Delivering the Good, the Council of Canadians calls for $5 billion and the implementation of a ‎national water policy in order to combat the hundreds of drinking water advisories in effect.

Despite the pressing need to safeguard water in Canadian municipalities and Indigenous communities, Budget 2015 actually allocates very little to water protection. The massive cuts to water departments and programs overall overshadow what little funding there actually is.

Water and wastewater infrastructure

The Alternative Federal Budget 2015 calls for an annual $4.2 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure. This would include funds for a National Public Water and Wastewater Fund ($2.6 billion), funding wastewater systems Regulation ($1 billion), water and waste water in First Nation reserves ($470 million), aid for small municipalities ($100 million) and training certification and conservation programs ($75 million).

The Federal Budget 2015 makes mention of the $1.25 billion announced for all infrastructures under Public-Private Partnership model from the 2013 budget and allocates an additional $750 million to the P3 Fund in 2017. However, it fails to allocate any funds to publically run water and wastewater infrastructure this year.

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs have been discussing a P3 model for the 33 First Nation communities in the Atlantic with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Global Water Intelligence mentions that if a bundled P3 for Atlantic First Nations were to go forward, it could pave the way for a similar model for the over 600 First Nations in Canada. This raises serious concerns about the potential for increased water prices and access to drinking water by First Nations who are already struggling with access. It also presents a threat to sovereignty and local democracy of Indigenous communities and potential for trade challenges if any wanted to cancel a P3 agreement.

Tax breaks over environmental impact and water research

The Alternative Federal Budget 2015 calls for $129 million for environmental impact research on tar sands, fracking and mining projects in the first year and $16 million annually thereafter.

The Council of Canadian Academies report, Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada, made clear that we do not know enough about fracking. Rather than fund environmental assessments and research on fracking and other resource projects, the Conservative government is giving LNG (liquefied national gas), mining and resource companies $101 million in tax breaks over the next five years.

Budget 2015 not only gives companies planning on building LNG facilities a $45 million tax break from  2015–2020, the Conservatives are extending the maximum limit of natural gas export licences from 25 to 40 years.

The Conservatives are giving junior mining companies $35 million in tax breaks from the 2015–16 to 2016–17 period. A $21 million tax grant is earmarked for “costs of environmental studies and community consultations” in the resource sector from 2015–16 to 2019–20. However, tax payers should not be footing the bill for companies’ environmental studies and community consultations.

Water funding a mirage in Budget 2015

Beginning this year, the Economic Action Plan 2015 allocates  $34 million over five years to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency “to continue to support consultations related to projects assessed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012”. Yet nearly $14 million  was cut from planned spending from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016. And many will remember the cuts to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act resulted in the cancellation of 3000 environmental assessments.

The Conservative Budget will give $80 million over five years to the National Energy Board for “safety and environmental protection and greater engagement with Canadians” beginning in 2015-2016. However, the  NEB budget will actually drop $18 million from 2015 to 2017.

The federal budget allocates $2.0 million in 2015–16 to the Pacific Salmon Foundation to support the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project. Yet nearly $100 million will be cut from planned spending for Fisheries and Oceans from 2014 to 2016.

Beginning in the period of 2015-2016, Budget 2015 will provide $30.8 million over five years “for measures to enhance the safety of marine transportation in the Arctic and further strengthen marine incident prevention, preparedness and response in waters south of the 60th parallel.” Budget 2015 goes on to note, “Measures related to the Arctic include targeted investments of $17.0 million over five years to strengthen marine navigation safety by improving charting of the sea floor, designing navigation aids, engaging local and Aboriginal communities, as well as strengthening prevention, preparedness and response capacity. Measures in waters south of the 60th parallel include targeted investments of $13.8 million over five years to fund scientific research on the behaviour of oil in freshwater in order to contribute to the knowledge base to effectively respond to oil spills in some of the highest risk areas in Canada, and to increase marine oil spill response capacity in the St. Lawrence River.”

However, the report Doubling Down on Disaster showed that a spill of 10 million litres – 10% of a typical supertanker – would cost $2.14 billion. The federal limit to liability for oil spills is $1.4 billion, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the difference.

The Conservative budget commits to $491.8 million for five years for the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) beginning in the period of  2016–17 when the CMP funding runs out. The CMP funding is earmarked for continuing “to assess and manage the risks to human health and the environment from new and existing chemical substances.” Budget 2015 notes, “Of the 4,300 substances identified by the Government as a priority for assessment by2020, approximately 2,700 have been evaluated and risk management strategies developed for 62 deemed harmful to human health and the environment. An additional 3,000 substances were evaluated before their introduction into the Canadian market.”

However, one area that the CMP needs strengthening is its assessment of chemicals used in the fracking process. Under the Chemicals Management Plan, Environment Canada reviewed 265 chemicals used in the fracking process in both Quebec and the U.S. Only 13 of the 265 chemicals have been assessed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and only a quarter will be addressed under the CMP. Approximately half of the fracking chemicals did not meet the CMP criteria for further investigation, meaning these chemicals have not been assessed for potential risks to the public.

Some of the fracking chemicals that did not meet criteria for further assessment included hydroxylmin hydrochloride, glutaraldehyde and other toxic chemicals. Medical data safety sheets warn that hydroxylmin hydrochloride are mutagenic for mammalian somatic cells, may be toxic to blood, cardiovascular system, upper respiratory tract, skin, eyes and are very toxic to aquatic life. Medical safety data sheets caution that glutaraldehyde is corrosive and can be fatal if swallowed. Assessment of these chemicals is important because fracking continues in Western Canada and communities in the Atlantic are exploring plants to discharge fracking wastewater in municipal facilities which are not equipped to treat these types of chemicals.

Great Lakes and freshwater supply protection

The AFB would allocate $613 million for protection of Great Lakes and protection of our freshwater supplies. $500 million would be specifically dedicated to establishing a Great Lakes commons and public trust framework based on empowering local decision-making and a co-management model that ensures true collaboration between communities and governments. Funding would also be dedicated towards cleaning up areas of concern and priority zones, controlling invasive species, calculating the amount of water in the Great Lakes and total water withdrawals, protecting wetlands, and creating an inventory on pollutants that are not covered by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the National Pollutant Release Inventory.

For the second year in a row, the Conservative government delivered a budget with no new funding targeted specifically for Great Lakes protection.

The Great Lakes continue to be threatened by multipoint pollution, tar sands oil pipelines and shipments, fracking climate change, over-extraction, invasive species, and wetland loss are all taking their toll on the watershed. They need strong government action including a significant increase in funds from the Canadian government.

A National Water Policy

Year after year the Conservatives’ budgets fail to deliver a budget that implements the human right to water and sanitation and recognize Indigenous water rights.

What we need is a federal government that will develop and implement a national strategy to address urgent water issues. We need federal leadership to conserve and protect our water. Leading up to the federal election, ask your local Member of Parliament and federal election candidates if they support a national policy on water that:

  • Establishes national enforceable drinking water standards.

  • Recognizes water as a human right.

  • Respects Indigenous water rights.

  • Declares surface and ground water a public trust.

  • Creates a national public water infrastructure fund.

  • Provides a strategy to address water pollution including reinstating changes to environmental legislation, removal of the Schedule 2 loophole, a ban on fracking and a just transition away from tar sands and all fossil fuels.

  • Invests in water and wastewater infrastructure, particularly in First Nations communities.

  • Bans bulk water exports.

  • Excludes water from NAFTA, CETA and all future trade agreements.

The next few months are a critical time to make clear that we, as voters, believe water is a top priority and that federal parties must develop a platform on water that adequately protects water, not only for our generations but for future generations.