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Budget 2012: Good for Big Oil, bad for people and the environment

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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget speech, interrupted by chants of ‘where are we in your budget?’ delivered a fierce blow to environmental protection in Canada and undoubtedly put smiles on the faces of Big Oil executives.

It is telling that climate change is mentioned a mere two times – and in passing – in the entire 2012, 498 page budget plan. It simply isn’t a priority, and that comes out clearly when you dig into the details of where funding is and is not funneled. As expected, the budget matches the confrontational tone set by the Harper government, including the framing of anyone that questions the unsustainable expansion in the tar sands as ‘extremists’ or ‘adversaries of Canada.’

Using the questions posed in a pre-budget blog, here are some energy and climate change lowlights from Budget 2012.

Will this budget cut Environment Canada’s budget, gut environmental assessments and the Fisheries Act?

As promised, the budget delivered steep cuts. Environment Canada’s budget is being cut again, this time by 6%. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is in line for a 40 per cent cut in the new budget year.

The budget also followed through on the promise to ‘streamline’ environmental reviews. Touting a ‘one project, one review’ principle, the CEAA is up for an overhaul with some responsibilities being downloaded on provinces, newly imposed timelines and a limiting of the scope of reviews. Joint panel environmental reviews are to be limited to 24 months, National Energy Board hearings to 18 months and standard environmental assessments to one year. This will jeopardize peoples’ capacity to participate in reviews and further undermines the ultimate goal of reviews in ensuring environmental protection is a priority in all projects – even if this means refusing to approve certain projects.

As raised by Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan, the overhaul of the CEAA may include the gutting of the Fisheries Act that prompted strong responses, including a letter from over 600 scientists , prior to yesterday’s release.

If one doubted the pre-budget conjectures that CEAA and Fisheries Act changes had to do with rail-roading through export-oriented energy projects, particularly the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, Flaherty’s budget speech put this to rest. Flaherty introduced the streamlining of environmental reviews with first stating, “…it has become clear that we must develop new export markets for Canada’s energy and natural resources, to reduce our dependence on markets in the United States. The booming economies of the Asia- Pacific region are a huge and increasing source of demand, but Canada is not the only country to which they can turn. If we fail to act now, this historic window of opportunity will close.”

What will become of the EcoENERGY programs?

The budget does not renew funding for the EcoENERGY energy efficiency programme. There is no new federal dollars for this ‘no brainer’ energy priority. At a time when people are needing jobs and more and more people are feeling a financial pinch, this simply doesn’t make sense. Retrofitting homes and buildings generates jobs, reduces energy bills and climate change pollution.

The budget also failed to review the EcoENERGY renewable energy programme, meaning there are no new funds towards renewable energy development. Budget 2012 does give minimal tax support to ‘clean energy’ and energy efficiency, to the tune of $2 million.

This stands in stark contrast to other countries currently investing green jobs and reducing fossil fuel dependency. This includes Germany’s target of deriving all of its electricity sources from renewable energy by 2050.

Will this budget finally see Canada phase out fossil fuel subsidies?

While no money is directed to energy efficiency or renewable energy, tar sands subsidies remain untouched. Despite Natural Resource Minister Oliver’s denial of subsidies to the oil and gas sector (highlighted in my previous blog), $1.38 billion a year is allocated to energy development through subsidies. Perhaps in a nod to mounting pressure, some changes are planned for subsidies to the oil and gas industry on Canada’s East coast. The Atlantic Investment Tax Credit for the oil, gas and mining sectors will be phased out.

Ending subsidies is by no means a radical demand. Proponents include a former Conservative MP, the NDP, the International Energy Agency, International Monetary Fund and President Obama.

Will this budget see Canada prioritize green infrastructure spending?

In one word – no. As noted, there are no new funds towards energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy expansion. Further green infrastructure spending including public transit, are only referred to in the Annex of the budget, highlighting where infrastructure investments were made in reviewing the stimulus phase in Canada’s economic plan. As highlighted in previous years blogs, Canada missed a huge opportunity, failing to heavily direct infrastructure stimulus to projects that assist in the transition off of fossil fuel dependency.

Will this budget see Canada repay our climate debt to the Global South?

Keeping with last year’s example, international climate finance is not included in the budget. For further analysis on what is needed and what Canada has pledged, see my earlier blog.

Were there any investments related to energy and the environment?

Absolutely, and it belies the Harper government’s energy plan – increase energy exports (preferably in their raw form) in a free market energy sector, faced with little red tape (ie., critical environmental and human rights protections).

- $13.5 million over the next two years to increase the number of oil and gas pipeline inspections to 150 per year from 100 and double the number of major annual audits.
- New cash for tanker inspections.
- $8 million to continuing the witch hunt against conservation groups. receiving government funding (read more)
- Offshore oil and gas developments are described as creating jobs and supporting economic growth in Canadian communities. To advance exploration for new developments, the budget will amend the Coasting Trade Act to improve access to seismic data for offshore resource development.
- Elimination of the National Roundtable on the Economy and the Environment.

While this may all sound bleak, it does make the monumental task ahead of us clear. We are faced with a federal government seemingly unwilling to recognize the climate change crisis. A government dedicated to feeding the resource boom, particularly in Canada’s tar sands and exporting energy with no plans on how to meet the basic energy needs of Canadians.

While daunting, we must not forget the power people have when we organize collectively. We can, and do, see municipal resolutions passed that put our priorities back on the table. We can, and do stop destructive projects, force delays and stricter oversight at municipal, provincial and federal levels. We can influence elections, to put our priorities forward.

The Council of Canadians is committed to working with our members, chapters and allies to ensure the priorities of people and the environment are put ahead of profit. This year we will build and strengthen our No Pipelines! No Tankers! campaign to stop three destructive pipeline projects, while exposing and challenging the unsustainable expansion of the tar sands. We will increase our efforts to stop offshore drilling before it starts in the St Lawrence. We will work with our allies to resist Canadian lobbying efforts to weaken other countries’ climate legislation. We will provide solidarity to communities and Indigenous peoples’ resisting Harper’s energy agenda and advocating just alternatives. We will continue to work for ‘system change, no climate change,’ working with chapters to support local climate justice campaigns. We will continue to expose Canada’s lack of an energy plan that ensures peoples basic needs are met and a planned transition off of fossil fuels.

Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy and climate justice campaigner, The Council of Canadians

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