Tomorrow is budget day in the House of Commons. For weeks, pundits have been speculating that Parliament's vote on the budget — a confidence measure — may trigger a federal election. So with the spotlight focused on the Government of Canada's spending priorities, what will Budget 2011, mean for the environment?
Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, has signalled this will be a year of belt-tightening and several important environmental programs could be on the chopping block. For example, funding for energy efficiency programs, the Clean Air Regulatory Agenda, and the Chemicals Management Plan will expire at the end of the month if not renewed.
Most of us have some experience with the difficult decisions that come with budgeting and setting priorities. But, unlike the federal government, most of us aren't sitting on an un-cashed cheque worth $1.4 billion. That's the amount the federal government will fail to collect from the oil and gas industry this year because of federal tax breaks and incentives (check out the subsidy counter). Something is seriously wrong with our priorities when tax breaks to oil and gas companies are larger than Environment Canada's entire operating budget.
And things could get worse. Although details of the annual budget are a closely-guarded secret right up until budget day, we got a glimpse of the federal government's spending plan earlier this month when the Main Estimates were introduced. That bill outlines a 20% reduction in Environment Canada's budget — a $222 million funding loss.
The Main Estimates aren't the final word and funding could still be restored to Environment Canada depending on what's announced in tomorrow's budget. Here are some things The David Suzuki Foundation will be watching for:
- Fossil Fuel Subsidies. In 2009, Prime Minister Harper joined other G-20 leaders in pledging to phase out fossil fuel subsidies that undermine renewable energy development and the global fight against climate change. But Canada has yet to make good on that promise. Although the budget in 2007 started phasing-out one of the tax breaks (the Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance; ACCA) for new oil and gas development, projects initiated before then still qualify for that tax write-off. The David Suzuki Foundation wants all tax breaks and incentives for polluting fossil fuels to end.
- Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Programs. Funding for the popular ecoENERGY programs — including home retrofit and biofuels — will expire at the end of March unless renewed in the upcoming budget. The federal government's own assessment shows these programs have been effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs. The budget for energy efficiency and clean energy programs should be renewed, with a priority on promoting greenhouse gas reductions.
- Clean Air Regulatory Agenda. Four years ago, the federal government pledged to regulate industrial emissions of greenhouse gasses and air pollutants as part of its Clean Air Agenda. Now, funding for the Clean Air agenda is expiring before a single regulation has been put in place. The budget for the Clean Air Regulatory Agenda needs to be renewed, and Environment Canada's core funding maintained or increased in order to deliver on its promises to improve air quality and manage climate change.
- Chemicals Management Plan. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act requires the federal government to assess and address some 23,000 legacy chemicals that may pose a danger to human health and the environment. To complete this task, the federal government launched the $300 million Chemicals Management Plan four years ago, and has been making its way through assessments of "high priority" substances. The work plan for the next phase involves assessing and managing 3000 "medium priority" substances. This next phase will involve a similar scope of challenging work and requires the federal government provide a similar level of funding.
- Species at Risk Act Implementation. To bring threatened plants and animals back from the brink, Environment Canada needs sufficient capacity to protect and restore habitat and enforce the Species at Risk Act.