As predicted, the 2012 federal budget included further cuts to core Canadian environmental programs, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada, and threats to weaken environmental laws. These cuts will push some core services to the breaking point and further unravel the safety net of laws that protect nature — and all of us.
What was also revealed in the budget was the government's clear intent to act in the service of a narrow set of major industrial interests, particularly oil and gas, while ignoring the broader economy and the enduring jobs and healthy communities that innovation could generate. This explains how in a budget full of cuts to core services, including cuts to clean tech research and development, billion-dollar subsidies to the oil and gas industry remain.
Various initiatives were also announced to make it even easier for large projects like pipelines, oil sands development, and mines to proceed with less scrutiny through reducing the review timelines to two years for environmental assessment processes, and a weakening of the role of science, First Nations, and the public in resource development decision-making.
Perhaps the most symbolic action, however, was the least fiscally important.
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The National Round Table on the Environment and Economy will immediately close its doors. With a total budget of $5 million, the financial relief to taxpayers will be small, but the cost in terms shared understanding will be big. The Round Table gathered 20 leading academics, economists, ecologists and policy-makers to consider some of the important and complex issues related to the environment and economy — and in this country there is no other body like it.
For example, it produced some of the most groundbreaking research on policy, technology and implementation pathways to economically viable low-carbon futures. Its current Climate Prosperity initiative is among the most ambitious works in the world, demonstrating that deep reductions in carbon emissions are possible without significant economic sacrifices.
Cutting the Round Table demonstrates that this government is not interested in real innovation and the contribution of scientists and economists who could help move Canada forward — improving both protection of the environment and the strength of our economy. Instead, it is willing to act recklessly, threatening the future prosperity and safety of Canadians by moving environmental protection backwards, gutting core programs and abandoning an inclusive and informed approach to resource development (in part by weakening the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act).
Check this site in the coming weeks as we report on details of the federal budget as they are tabled.
In the meantime, please take action to protect Canada's environmental laws.