Environment Canada in for minor status

This article by Graham Saunders was originally published in the Chronical Journal on April 4, 2014.

Environment Canada promises "a clean, safe and sustainable environment while supporting economic prosperity." The latest budget casts some doubts on the these promises and who the Harper government is “supporting” deserves a more careful look.

The present annual budget of Environment Canada is $1 billion; the federal government’s share of subsidies to support oil production in 2008 was $1.38 billion according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, based in Winnipeg.

The ratio between clean, safe and sustainable and subsidies to the corporate energy sector does not favour the environment and it gets much worse with the latest federal budget. This proposes to reduce Environment Canada to $700 million. Even if the Harper policies maintained the 2008 subsidies, and they are projected to increase, this would be twice the Ministry’s budget.

Money for water-related programs, including protection, ecosystem sustainability and regulation enforcement will decline from $108 million to $88 million.

Rough weather ahead

According to Environment Minister Aglukkaq, Environment Canada will "deliver high quality weather services" as well as "expand and improve our severe weather warning system."

This is a silly promise, Environment Canada's weather services will be cut by 18 per cent between now and 2016/17. Funding for timely weather forecasts and warnings is slated to drop from $166 million to $143 million by 2017. The budget for Great Lakes forecasting and for coastal weather ice conditions will decline from $12 million to $8 million.

If you wish to confirm the Environment Canada numbers I have mentioned, or for more shock and awe, refer to: https://www.ec.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=024B8406-1&offset=3&toc=show#s3

Extreme weather in the form of heavy rain and resulting floods in Canada set a record $6 billion in costs in 2013. For the last five years, extreme weather related to destabilizing climate change has resulted in approximately $2 billion in damages annually. These trends of more severe weather and more damage are robust and continue to trend upward. Improved forecasts based on improved modelling and analysis needs to be the goal. Instead, the Harper government seems bent on a course that compounds danger from changing weather patterns.

The federal government’s climate strategy is “disjointed, confused, and nontransparent” with present and future policies weaker than in 2007 (Federal Environment Commissioner, 2011).

"Climate change is one of the defining issues of our age and it’s already having an impact on our lives” according to Gordon Miller, Ontario Environmental Commissioner.

“Stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will require a radical transformation of the global energy system over coming decades. The science [of climate change] is sobering . . . Make no mistake: without concerted action, the very future of our planet is in peril” (International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde).

The Harper government has gutted Environment Canada since assuming power in 2006. Severe weather, air and water quality research is almost non-existent now. “Many people have been "reassigned" into desk jobs which look like hatchet positions or purely functionary work. On a positive note, almost all cuts of civil servants have been through pressure and retirements. That does clear out the senior scientists ranks. There are a few "fair haired" people who continue to be funded well, especially if they are trying to support Oil Sands work” (from an inside observer).

Note that this kind of “research” constitutes another avenue of subsidy – a nasty irony.

Dangerous weather and a new concept for Canada – dangerous government. We have to hope that this government does not contribute to a country and planet “in peril” too much longer.


Subsidy footnote

Canadian federal and provincial governments provided subsidies of $2.84 billion to petroleum interests in 2008. These subsidies consist mainly of tax breaks and royalty reductions to encourage exploration. Another avenue of assisting fossil fuel interests is through Ministries such as Natural Resources, Environment Canada and others provide research (as mentioned above). No numbers are easily available for these subsidies. The International Monetary Fund (2013) estimates that energy subsidies in Canada total $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and health and externalized costs.