Along with potential changes to Canada's environmental laws, further cuts to core environmental programs will likely be included in the federal budget on Thursday, March 29. These cuts could take already stressed programs to a breaking point, undermining the function of government itself and hurting our economy.
We may see announcements related to creating Canada's first urban national park in the Rouge watershed of Toronto or improving water treatment in First Nations communities, which would be useful for these communities. However, if the trend continues in cutting core environmental programs, including those related to the establishment and management of national parks or regulating water quality nation-wide, we'll have a problem.
Sign up for our newsletter
The most fundamental role of government is to protect its citizens. To fulfill this role government — no matter how big or small — must make protecting our shared environment a high priority. Our safety and security include access to clean air, water and food. All of these needs rely on nature, made up of intact ecosystems of plants and animals (including humans), along with flows of water, air and nutrients.
Government departments, such as Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, play key roles in protecting our environment, from regulating toxins in our air to protecting rivers and lakes that people depend on for food, recreation and jobs. Recent budget cuts have already undermined the ability of these departments to perform their most basic functions. Further cuts could hit thresholds where these functions aren't just reduced, but are compromised entirely. Meanwhile, the government is continuing to subsidize major industries that are highly profitable.
As an example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for ensuring fish stocks are abundant, supporting both economic and subsistence fisheries. It's not hard to imagine that counting fish would be one of the core requirements of this department — without these counts how do we know how many we can catch? But this is one of the basic functions at risk. Cuts have already compromised the government's ability to count fish, and further cuts could create a scenario where many fisheries couldn't be pursued safely at all without threatening to destroy the stocks. This would be a terrible hit to the people who depend on fisheries for their food and livelihood. Remember Newfoundland and the cod fishery?
We all agree that the government should be efficient and effective. Further cuts to critical environmental programs threaten both. Putting the environment we depend on at risk severely undermines the effectiveness of government in meeting the most basic needs of its citizens. The wrong kind of cuts could also make the government (more) inefficient and undermine our economy.
As those who built this country have demonstrated, we're all ready to roll up our sleeves and put in extra work when times are tight. But these efforts are relevant only if they're still about getting the job done. One of the primary jobs of government is to protect the environment, for the health of the economy and us.