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The Harper government’s 2012 budget called for substantial cuts to federal spending on the environment: $83.3 million in 2012-13, $117.9 million in 2013-14 and, starting in 2014-15, $180.5 million per year on an ongoing basis. These amounts include cuts to Environment Canada, and those imposed on environment related programs at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada. They also take into account the abolition, as of March 2013, of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE).
The reduction in spending on the environment began before the budget of 2012, and will continue after 2015 according to the latest budgetary estimates provided by the departments and agencies concerned. In fact, a comparison of actual expenditures on the environment in 2010-11 with those projected for 2015-16 shows that annual cuts could reach 1.5 billion dollars, and result in the loss of over 1,600 jobs.
Along with budget cuts and layoffs, the Harper government has implemented a number of other measures which weaken environmental protection. For example, this government has slashed laws on environmental assessments, fisheries and protection of navigable waters (see examples below). In addition, its approaches to numerous environmental issues have major weaknesses, as has been repeatedly reported by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The Commissioner has criticized the government for, among other things, its management of the environmental risks associated with gas, oil and nuclear projects, as well as its greenhouse gas reduction practices. In fact, the Commissioner has stated that he is “concerned that the resource boom is outpacing environmental safeguards.”
All of these cuts to environmental protection have a common objective, explicitly laid out in the Harper government’s Economic Action Plan: “to make Canada the most attractive country in the world for resource investment and development.” Need we say more?
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), revised in 2012, has been significantly weakened. For example, only certain types of national projects, described as “designated”, are subject to an assessment, and fewer environmental effects are considered than under the former Act. As a result of these two changes, close to 3000 assessments were cancelled when the new CEAA came into force in 2012, because they did not correspond with the criteria in the new law.
Changes made to section 35 of the Fisheries Act put aquatic ecosystems at risk. When these changes take effect, on a date which has yet to be announced, the prohibition on altering a fish’s habitat will be replaced with a prohibition on causing “serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery.” This means that only fished species will be truly protected, and not the ecosystems they depend upon for their survival.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act is to become the Navigation Protection Act, again on a date which has yet to be announced. Under the current law, federal approval is required for any construction on, over, under, through or across all navigable waterways in the country, of which there are tens of thousands. The new law will apply only to the three oceans that border Canadian territory, and to 159 lakes, rivers and riverines designated in schedule 2 of Bill C-45. Thus, 99.9% of rivers, and 99.7% of lakes in Canada will be exempt from federal regulation, making it far easier to build pipelines, dams and other structures.
The Harper government has made its disdain for the fight against climate change quite clear. In December 2011, for example, it withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, according to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, “The government’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is unlikely to meet Canada’s target for 2020.” That target is a 17% reduction on 2005 levels.