Photo: Reckoning with Canada's hidden deficit

(Credit: Wilson Hui via Flickr)

By Bill Wareham, Science Projects Manager, Western Canada

It's budget time, and we're hearing a lot about deficits and declining economic growth. Like many Canadians, I'm worried that today's federal budget is creating a hidden deficit that our children and grandchildren will have to pay for.

The March 21 federal budget cuts programs that protect nature. This lack of support for environmental programs is drawing down on our natural heritage. We might not have to pay now, but the long-term consequences are serious.

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Canada is blessed with rich natural resources, an abundance of fresh water, bountiful farmland and oxygen-producing forests. But the 2013 focuses on how to exploit our natural heritage rather than sustain it.

Canadians expect every level of government to look after our collective wealth, whether it's in education, transportation infrastructure or national defence. When it comes to collective wealth, there's nothing more important than the elements we depend on and share the most: our air, water, soils and biodiversity. These shared elements are what Canadians expect their governments to watch over and safeguard.

Cuts to scientific monitoring cast doubt on whether we can make good decisions about our environmental wealth. If we don't know what's happening with fish populations, ocean acidity, rainfall and carbon emissions, how can we expect our governments to properly manage our most precious resources?

This hidden deficit is most obvious when it comes to protecting our coastal waters. Canada has the world's longest coastline but is a laggard, not a leader, when it comes to protecting it. "Conservation actions are not keeping up with the increasing pressures faced by our oceans," is how Scott Vaughan, Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, bluntly put it.

What did government put in the budget to move forward the 20 proposed marine protected areas? A mere $4 million. The Green Budget Coalition, a respected umbrella group of environmental organizations, had suggested a minimum of $65 million to get these protection measures on the move.

It looks like the priorities of Commissioner Vaughan the Green Budget Coalition are not the same as the federal government's.

However, there are priorities in the budget, including $57 million for "aquaculture renewal", which in plain English means "help for fish farms". Did the federal government forget about the findings of the Cohen Commission?

Even if this budget were only about protecting our economy, the choices are wrong-headed. "Conserving and protecting marine biodiversity is not solely an environmental priority...[the ocean] is intrinsic to the health and functioning of the world economy," Commissioner Vaughan said. It's not surprising that he also has an economic perspective on marine biodiversity. He is, after all, in the office of the auditor general of Canada.

Clearly, our magnificent and awe-inspiring blue planet has more value than any ledger can quantify, but even through the distorted lens of an economy-first perspective, safeguarding productive ecosystems must become part of the calculation when balancing a budget.

March 22, 2013

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Mar 26, 2013
11:07 AM

We seem to find it difficult to shed the notions of the past when it comes to developing the economy.

We are making some terrible mistakes when we are not using a highly educated population to it’s best advantage, which logic would dictate should be trying to obtain the maximum utility from the smallest quantity of resources and developing measures to reduce harm to the environment from any necessary resource extraction.

The continued exploitation and exportation of our natural resources especially in their raw form is diminishing the quality of life we will experience in the future. Resource exports create real losses to our real economy and imports create real losses to someone else’s economy so we have to very careful how and what we trade to protect the environment upon which everyones future depends.

Plans to focus future educational efforts around the labor needs of increasing resource exportation is also a poor use of the vast amount of past resource expended creating a highly educated workforce. An educated workforce maximizing it’s true labor potential hands something of great value on to future generations. There should be more to show for our efforts than big holes in the ground, depleted land, polluted waters and an ill conceived infrastructure which fails to meet needs that could easily have been foreseen.

Apr 02, 2013
10:35 AM

we as individuals can only make sure we can do as much recycling as we can, yes we can protest but we must do it now for the future.

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