Yesterday nearly 50 civil society organizations sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper decrying the cuts to Environment Canada and outlining serious concerns about the impacts the cuts will have on water.

The letter was endorsed by labour, environmental, social justice, women’s and First Nations organizations, including the Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, International Institute of Concern for Public Health, Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council, Métis Women’s Circle, Mining Watch Canada, National Council of Women of Canada, National Network on Environments and Women’s Health, Polaris Institute, Public Service Alliance of Canada, and Sierra Club Canada.

In the letter, statements were made by Maude Barlow (national chairperson of the Council of Canadians), Oliver M. Brandes (co-director of the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project on Ecological Governance), David Suzuki (emeritus professor of zoology, University of British Columbia), Bob Sandford (chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of the United Nations Water for Life Decade), Ralph Pentland (acting chairman of the Canadian Water Issues Council) and Randy Christensen (lawyer with Ecojustice).

To read the press release and letter including the list of signatories, click here.

Summary of budget cuts to Environment Canada

A comparison of Environment Canada’s Reports on Plans and Priorities from 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 reveals some shocking cuts to a critical government department. A summary of key points from the budget cuts to Environment Canada are:

–  Reduction of $222.2 million from last year’s total planned spending

–  Elimination of 1211 jobs (full-time equivalents) over the next three years

–  Some of the biggest cuts were in the program activities of Climate Change and Clean Air, Substance and Waste Management, Weather and Environmental Services, Water Resources and Internal Services

–  Specific programs in which funding was reduced include the Action Plan on Clean Water and the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan

–  The specific programs that were cut this year include the Chemicals Management Plan, the Clean Air Agenda and the Air Quality Health Index

–  The specific programs that will be cut next year include Species at Risk

While some of the cuts were predicted in last year’s Report on Plans and Priorities, cuts in program activities such as Biodiversity, Weather and Environmental Services, Substance and Waste Management and Climate Change and Clean Air were either not predicted in the 2010-2011 Report on Plans and Priorities or higher than estimates outlined in the 2010-2011Report.

Although Environment Canada’s 2011-2012 Report on Plans and Priorities outlines ‘Planning Highlights’ for the various program activities, the report fails to provide an analysis of the impacts of these cuts on water and other elements of the natural environment. The federal government has also failed to provide an opportunity for public debate on these critical decisions that will have impacts on current as well as future generations.

Cuts to specific programs

According to Environment Canada’s 2011-2012 Report on Plans and Priorities, Funding for the Action Plan on Clean Water and the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan will be reduced. Several sun-setting programs (programs that are funded for a temporary period of time) will be eliminated altogether over the next few years. These programs include:  Chemicals Management Plan, Clean Air Agenda, the Air Quality Health Index and Species at Risk.

The Action Plan on Clean Water includes facets of the Oceans Action Plan, the Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nations Communities, clean-up funding for water bodies, wastewater regulations and water science. Just last March, former Environment Minister Jim Prentice affirmed that the Action Plan on Clean Water was a priority. However, despite this, funding to the program is being cut which could significantly hinder Canada’s ability to fulfill their legal obligation on the right to water. For more information on countries obligations on the right to water, see Our Right to Water: A People’s Guide to Implementing the United Nations’ Recognition of the Right to Water and Sanitation.

The Chemicals Management Program is managed jointly between Environment Canada and Health Canada. It ensures “timely action on key threats to health and the environment” and is responsible for “risk assessment, risk management, monitoring and surveillance, as well as research on chemicals which may be harmful to human health or the environment.” The termination of this program could have serious impacts on water in Canada and public health.

Areas of concern — Reductions in program activities

Water resources
According to Environment Canada’s 2011-2012 Report on Plans and Priorities, 34 Full-time Equivalents (FTEs) will be cut from the program activity of Water Resources this year (2011-2012) and another 20 FTE positions will be eliminated next year (2012-2013). The program addresses the impacts that economic growth, climate change and other factors have on water sources. The program focuses on water sustainability and provides scientific information and advice to decision-makers. This area also supports the implementation of the Canada Water Act, the 1987 Federal Water Policy, Canadian Environmental Protect Act, Fisheries Act and International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. The Federal Water Policy is more than 30 years old and badly outdated. Canada needs a national strategy to address urgent water issues as well as strong federal leadership to conserve and protect our water. These cuts not only hinders Canada from being a leader in water protection, it could also hinder Canada from adequately enforcing these acts.

Substance and waste management
279 FTEs will be reduced from Substance and Waste Management. The goal of the program is ensure that “threats to Canadians and impacts on the environment posed by harmful substances and waste are reduced.” The program activity “assesses environmental threats posed by harmful substances and other substances of concern in terms of their fate and effects, and develops and implements prevention, reduction, elimination and management measures to deal with these substances.” This area is linked to water quality and ecosystem/habitat conservation and protection.

Climate change and clean air
The largest amount of job cuts was in Climate Change and Clean Air. The amount of FTEs were nearly halved, with a reduction of 422 FTEs for 2011-2012. A further cut of nearly 100 FTEs is slated for in 2012-2013. The goal of the program is to ensure that “threats to Canadians, their health and their environment from air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions are minimized.” The programming is “critical to protect the health of Canadians and the environment from the harmful effects of air pollutants and the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.” The program activity is responsible for regulating air pollutants and controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Weather and environmental services for Canadians
A significant number of FTEs were eliminated from Weather and Environmental Services: 146 FTEs were cut from Weather and Environmental Services for Canadians and 56 FTEs were cut from Weather and Environmental Services for Targeted Users. These significant cuts were not noted in last year’s Plans and Priorities.

The mission of the program activity Weather and Environmental Services for Canadians includes ensuring “Canadians, communities and policy-makers understand the potential health and safety risks from the changing climate and air quality conditions.” Programming also manages short- and long-term risks including air quality or climate change.

Weather and Environmental Services for Targeted Users focuses on ensuring that specific sectors (air, marine and defence) “have the meteorological and environmental information and services they need to operate efficiently and safely.” This program activity helps users “manage and adapt to risks created by changing weather and climate conditions.” It also supports the Environment Canada in “meeting obligations and responsibilities conferred by the Department of the Environment Act” and “helps other government departments meet their obligations under the Oceans Act and the Fisheries Act.”

Internal services
Staffing for Internal Services was reduced by 58 FTEs this year with an additional 19 FTEs to be eliminated next year. Internal services includes: Management and Oversight Services; Communications Services; Legal Services; Human Resources Management Services; Financial Management Services; Information Management Services; Information Technology Services; Real Property Services; Material Services; Acquisition Services; and Travel and Other Administrative Services. These critical services could hinder the department from effectively carrying out its tasks.

Overall these cuts present a significant threat to water protection and healthy ecosystems in Canada. We are calling on the federal government to cancel the cuts and invest in our country’s freshwater heritage.

The above information is drawn from Environment Canada’s Reports on Plans and Priorities from 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. To view the reports, click here.

Emma Lui - Fraser River

Emma Lui

Emma Lui is an activist, writer and researcher. She is a contributing editor with and a member of Cooperative Biblioterre. Emma is also the holistic health director for the Canadian Women...