Climate change is on the chopping block this month as the federal government prepares to slash some $10 billion from its budget.
The federal treasury board secretariat released its Main Estimates report for 2011-12 Tuesday. The document outlines what the government expects to spend in the coming fiscal year, and acts as a preview for the budget. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he will table the budget on March 22.
The government predicts that it will spend some $250.8 billion this fiscal year, according to the report, or about $10.4 billion less than last year.
The report projects spending cuts in every area except justice, transportation, public safety, defence and parliament. The government planned to spend about $797 million more on public safety and security, about $522 million of which would go to Correctional Services (jails).
The biggest proportional cuts had to do with industrial and scientific support. Spending was set to fall some $5.2 billion, most of which had to do with the end of stimulus programs.
Next biggest went to the environment, which faces a 14 per cent cut — equivalent to $1.6 billion. Both Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada faced cuts in the 20 per cent range ($222 million and $929 million, respectively), with climate change and clean air programs specifically facing a 59 per cent cut ($240 million).
These are disturbing cuts, says Pat Collins, president of the Big Lake Environment Support Society, ones he hoped would be revised in the budget.
"This government has shown by some of its actions that it really doesn't care about the environment," he says. "If the government is taking money from oil royalties, they're going to have to chip in to mitigate some of the problems that go with it."
Green spending slashed
The report forecasts a $27-million boost for renewable power and confirms the previously announced elimination of the $390-million home energy retrofits grant program.
That cut was a good idea, says Leigh Bond, president of St. Albert's Threshold Energies Corp., which promotes renewable energy, as the home retrofit program subsidized established technologies that people would buy anyway if they knew of them. "They were wasting their money in all the wrong places."
The report also predicts a $145.5-million reduction to the Clean Air Agenda, which serves to "inform Canada's domestic regulatory approach to greenhouse gas emissions, provide a platform to deepen engagement with the U.S. on climate change issues and enhance Canada's visibility as an international leader in clean energy technology."
It's clear at this point that the federal government doesn't treat climate change as a priority, says Andrew Weaver, the Canada Research Chair in climate modelling and analysis at the University of Victoria. "Canada already hasn't done a lot," he says of our reduction efforts, and these cuts won't help. "It doesn't bode well for Canada's climate initiatives."
The federal government says it will reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent relative to 2005 levels by 2020, Weaver says, but has yet to explain how it will pull that off. "We have the minister of the environment standing up and saying, 'Canada has a plan,' but nobody quite knows what that plan is."
The federal government has invested some $10 billion in clean energy and green infrastructure since 2006, says Edmonton-St. Albert member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber in a written statement, and has promised to review its emission reduction programs. "We will keep taxes low and ensure that government spending is prudent and affordable."
The main estimates report can be found under "Estimates and Supply" at www.tbs-sct.gc.ca.