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Environment Canada Budget for Wildlife, Climate Stripped Away

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, September 20, 2007 (ENS) - The Canadian government has decided to cut spending on Environment Canada programs that address climate change by 80 percent, and wants cuts of 40 percent in the budgets devoted to climate change at other ministries, according to cabinet documents obtained by "The Globe and Mail." In addition, wildlife programs and services within the federal department have been completely frozen, environmental groups say.

As yet, there has been no official statement from any level of Stephen Harper's Conservative Government on the budget cuts.

"Initially the cuts were preceived as rumor," said Sandy Baumgartner, executive director of programs and communications for the 300,000 member Canadian Wildlife Federation. "But I have now had confirmation from individuals in the department who have been impacted by it. The cuts are affecting every section of the department."

The Conservative government must stop using funds targeted for key environmental programs to prop up their failing climate change strategy, said Liberal Environment Critic David McGuinty.

"If it is true, as reports suggest, that the Conservative government is funding climate change programs by taking funds from programs that protect endangered species, fund scientific research, and the migratory birds program, it is appalling," said McGuinty.

In the past, polar bears in Manitoba have been tranquillized and airlifted north as the sea ice is returning later and later after the summer months. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace/Visser)
"The truth is, they are not even funding climate change programs," he said. "They are spending the money on a climate change public relations campaign. It's a marketing campaign designed to make Canadians think that something is being done."

McGuinty was reacting to reports today that the government has paid for its commitments on global warming by devastating the budgets of other Environment Canada programs because the department overspent its budget.

In particular, the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Network, which observes changes in ecosystems, has lost 80 percent of its budget, McGuinty believes.

"The Migratory Bird Program, which monitors the health of bird populations, has seen its budget cut by 50 percent;" he said, "and the budget for the National Wildlife Areas, a program that protects nationally significant habitats for wildlife and birds, has been slashed from $1.9 million to zero."

These figures accord with reports by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In the last budget, said McGuinty, the government provided funding for a series of climate change programs that were announced between January and March 2007.

"There was not, however, any indication the money to pay for these programs would come from the existing budget of Environment Canada. In fact, the government trumpeted these programs as new investments in Canada's environment," he said.

The swift fox is on the federal Species At Risk list. (Photo by W. Lynch courtesy Parks Canada)
"This government had a $13 billion surplus in the last fiscal year," said Mr. McGuinty. "There is no reason that the money needed to come from Environment Canada's existing programs. The only possible explanation is that the paltry spending they are undertaking on climate change is designed to deal with a political problem, and they are willing to rob from programs with a lower political profile to put out their political fires."

"It certainly suggests it is not a priority for our federal government," she said, "which is sharmeful."

Baumgartner said Environment Canada historically is "severely underfunded," and now some programs are frozen to the rest of this fiscal year, which is at the end of March 2008.

In Vancouver, Western Canada Wilderness Committee Policy Director Gwen Barlee says her organization is "appalled" by the government's budget cuts. "This is a government that is supposed to have environmental concerns at the top of their list, and then they go and gut the wildlife service. I'm incredulous!"

"They're going to hear from outraged Canadians," Barlee said. "People don't want to be spun, we have to address climate issues, issues of the environment, endangered species, biodiversity. Poll after poll after poll shows environment and climate change are top of the list of Canadians' concerns. I can't understand a government that wouldn't be aware of that. We want and expect meaningful action on these issues."

"This government keeps saying we are going to be leaders of western world on climate change, and then they go and cut the budget. When push comes to shove you have to look at the difference between actions and words," Barlee said. "These actions are sending a very clear signal that this government is playing fast and loose with the environment."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

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