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.