A budget that misses the mark
Prime Minister Harper said in October 2008 “we cannot separate environmental and economic policy.” This was also about the time that Finance Minister Flaherty told us that there would be no deficit. A few months later, and the budget is predicting $64 billion dollars in deficit over the next two years and nature conservation and protection is absent from the proposed 2009 federal budget.
This is not to say that there were not positive nuggets in the budget. The sad state of many First Nations communities was addressed in several positive ways. Via Rail will receive significant funds to increase and improve its service. There is $81 million going towards contaminated sites, $690 million to a vaguely worded agricultural flexibility program that does mention “environmental sustainability" (thank God no specific mention of growing corn for ethanol production), $75 million for Parks Canada to improve and fix their roads, visitor centres, and campgrounds, and a one billion dollar green infrastructure fund. But in reading this budget, one can not help feeling that an opportunity was missed.
What is missing is a cause for disappointment. There are no commitments in this budget toward completing the system of national parks. There is no plan to protect the north, oceans or marine and fresh water ecosystems, though they are under tremendous threat from industrial expansion and climate change.
The Canadian Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for our migratory birds and the crumbling system of national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries are not even mentioned. Protecting Canada’s natural resources and biodiversity is both an ethical responsibility and legal obligation, yet without adequate capacity or any recognition at all as a priority, the only conclusion that one can reach is that nature is not important to this government.
Couched in happy, green language, are some worrisome red flags. Under the heading “A More Sustainable Environment” the budget states “to maintain a strong economy Canada requires a healthy environment . . . ." While there is a commitment of $1 billion toward clean energy technologies, the emphasis is clearly on supporting and promoting the highly controversial and unproven carbon capture and storage schemes.
Removing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and storing it in the ground is fraught with problems and controversies, but has been promoted as a panacea to justify the tar sands expansions, which are destroying thousands of square kilometres of boreal forest, and the continued burning of coal to generate electricity. In addition, industry's investment in carbon capture and storage is being encouraged through a capital cost allowance. I fail to see how these investments of our tax dollars are moving Canada toward a healthy environment while at the same time the wind energy incentive program of the federal government has been axed.
The other curiosity is a section called “strengthening Canada’s Nuclear Advantage.” $351 million dollars will be flowed to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to meet “energy security and climate change goals.” Our country’s history with nuclear is not one of financial prudence but one that has created mountains of debt due both to the huge capital costs associated with building reactors, the liabilities associated with decommissioning the reactors after their relatively short life spans, and the un-reconciled issue of managing the waste products that remain highly hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. Again, I’m not sure how investing in nuclear can be considered part of “a more sustainable environment” particularly when real sources of green energy are not explicitly mentioned at all (i.e. solar, wind, geothermal).
Getting back to nature protection, another red flag shoots up in a section called “Accelerating Approvals Processes.” The government is proposing to amend and streamline the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, federal laws that protect our land and water ecosystems. This potential weakening of these laws to accelerate business could lead to more environmental losses, and makes us now wonder what the Prime Minister really meant when he said “we cannot separate environmental and economic policy.”
This budget should be about shifting us to a green economy, but it does not. In fact, though it may well provide some needed economic stimulus for today, it does so at a great cost to future generations.