Harper issues a “tough on nature” budget

The Harper Conservatives have followed through on threats to erode environmental protection and grease the wheels for greater fossil fuel development. As well, it has killed the voice of its sustainable development advisory council, the National Round Table on Environment and Economy – an agency created by the Mulroney Government, and ironically currently headed by Jim Flaherty’s former Chief of Staff David McLaughlin. It also threatens environmental groups with sanctions if advocacy for the environment annoys the Prime Minister by branding it “political activity.” “First, it gagged the scientists, now it is killing the advisory institute the NRTEE, and has sent a warning shot to silence on-government conservation groups.  Without measurements, science or critics who can speak without fear, Harper’s agenda heads towards steam-rolling massive fossil fuel expansion.”

Environment Canada, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, CIDA and CBC are all facing cuts (6%, 4%, 4%, 9% and 10% respectively).  Meanwhile money will flow to help build pipelines, help fund industry tanker regulations, increase junior mining prospecting activity (historically the most environmentally damaging of all aspects of mining), promote seismic testing and drive off-shore oil and gas  development.  The sensitive Gulf of St. Lawrence is particularly identified for rapid development – even though Environment Minister Peter Kent had committed to a Gulf-wide environmental review which has yet to be announced.

“The code word for destroying environmental protection is to ‘streamline’; the code word for killing good agencies is ‘their work is done,’” said Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands. “The PM says he is ‘tough on crime.’ This budget proves that he is ‘tough on nature.’ What did nature ever do to him?”

There is no new money for climate science, and no money to save the PEARL research station at Eureka, though there is money to build a non-atmospheric science station at Cambridge Bay. The popular ecoEnergy housing retrofit programme will not be extended, but subsidies will continue for the nuclear industry and bio-technology. Meanwhile, although some tax benefits are being phased out for Atlantic oil and gas, fossil fuel subsidies will continue for the oil sands.

The words “climate change” do not appear in the budget at all.  There is $99 million to assist municipalities with flooding, but no mention that increased flooding will occur due to climate change. Unfortunately, research conducted by the National Research Council will now be increasingly focused toward commercial activities and “business-led” priorities , instead of on true science that expands our knowledge of the world.

It is also disturbing that in the section “Deeper Canada-China Ties” there are no mentions of human rights, climate change or of the need to actually define ‘national security’, when dealing with investment by foreign governments and state owned enterprises  into key national resources.

Finally, despite the strong national consensus that has emerged for improving education for First Nations communities, the $175 million that has been allotted over three years falls well short of the $2 billion funding shortfall identified by the Assembly of First Nations.

“This budget continues the Harper Conservatives’ assault on the environment in more ways than one.  The cuts to seniors, veterans, cultural institutions, and overseas development assistance, are all deeply disturbing.  We identified areas of waste equal to those areas chosen for cuts in this budget. The Prime Minister had a choice where to cut and where to invest.  He made the wrong choices. Greens are incensed by this government’s callous disregard for the things that matter most to Canadians,” said May.