The 2012 Ontario budget and the environment

By Penny Caldwell »Penny Caldwell

March 29th, 2012


Photo by Michael Gil

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Guest post by Blair Eveleigh, senior associate editor

When the economy is ailing, funding for the environment is often first on the chopping block. The perceived wisdom is that jobs are more important than the air or the water or the other foundations of our economic structures that rarely get accounted for on corporate or government spreadsheets; that once we get more money in the coffers, there will be extra cash to spend on cleaning up or protecting what we just defiled to make that money.

The Ontario and federal budgets are both out this week. The Council of Canadians is criticizing Ontario’s budget for not including funding for the Great Lakes. In the last election, the Liberals promised to enact a Great Lakes Protection Act, with $52 million in funding to clean up 17 hot spots, including Nipigon Bay and Peninsula Harbour on Lake Superior, and the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. I searched through the budget document and found only a few mentions of the Great Lakes, and then only in comparisons of our economy to that of the Great Lakes states. There’s no mention at all in the budget of the proposed act or the proposed funding. In fact, the word “protection” mostly comes up in the phrases “consumer protection” and “taxpayer protection.”

Meanwhile, your overworked and understaffed local Ministry of Natural Resources office just got a kick in the shins. In the budget chapter called “Transforming Public Services,” here’s part of what the government wants to do in a proposed reorganization of the MNR: “conduct resource management with a stronger regional focus and fewer field offices; and redesign its science and delivery activities to shift away from a species-by-species approach to a risk-based ecosystem/regional approach.” Translation: Do more with less; fewer offices and less staff; hope that if the broader environment is looked after, the individual species can look after themselves.

About those species: Some of them aren’t doing so well, especially those classified as “at risk” or “endangered.” The budget has something to say about them as well: “The Province is proposing amendments to the Endangered Species Act that maintain its commitment to protecting species at risk while streamlining approvals and permitting.” Sounds innocuous, but in reality with reduced funding for the MNR, will those little guys survive?

There’s more: amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act; efficiencies and more flexibility in the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act; amendments to the Public Lands Act to give municipalities more control over Crown land within municipal boundaries. What it all means is that the places we love, where cottagers go to be closer to nature, are going to be less protected, less supported, and more open to exploitation and encroachment. Oh, and, in a few hours, the feds deliver their budget. Sadly, I predict more of the same.

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Penny Caldwell