Canadian Environmental Network blind-sided by elimination of core funding

Chris Plecash
The Hill times
Date published: 
Tue, 2011-10-25

The Canadian Environmental Network is reeling from the elimination of its core funding by Environment Canada, and last week the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency told the Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development that it’s bracing for a 43 per cent cut to its budget for 2012-2013. Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) says the government is waging war on the environment.

The Canadian Environmental Network, which has facilitated communication between the federal government and community-based environmental groups for over three decades, was notified that it would lose its core federal funding of $547,000 next year.

Established in 1977 as the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council, the network has provided Environment Canada and other federal agencies with community-level environmental input for 34 years. This two-way street of communications between the federal government and the network’s 640-member organizations from across Canada is now expected to close its eleven regional offices next year.

CEN chair Olivier Kolmel told The Hill Times that in May the network was assured in writing that its partnership with the federal government would continue, but over the summer there was a freeze in communications between the network’s directorate and senior officials at Environment Canada. On Oct. 13, CEN was notified that its funding for next year would not be renewed.

Mr. Kolmel questioned the government’s motives for sending mixed signals on the CEN’s future funding. “Why did they come to us several months later, cutting us without warning? For such a long partnership and an important institution to Canadians, there should still be a transitional period allowed for such an organization to move to some kind of financial independence by diversifying funding sources. It’s a question of respect,” he said.

Over the course of its history, the network worked with the federal government on a number of key environmental initiatives, including the development of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and Brian Mulroney’s Green Plan, which brought environmental issues into the federal spotlight. The network, which coordinates communication between the federal government and some 630,000 environmentally concerned Canadians, has also provided consultation for a number of federal departments with environmental responsibilities, including Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and Health Canada.

“Democratically and financially it’s a loss for the government,” Mr. Kolmel stated.

Environment Canada spokesperson Melissa Lantsman said that Environment Canada decided to end its contribution agreement with the network as part of a “rigorous process” focused on “responsible spending and sound management of tax dollars.”

Ms. Lantsman said that Environment Canada intends to replace the network’s function direct “web-based consultation.”

“The department already has a number of web pages dedicated to public participation and consultation,” Ms. Lantsman wrote in an email to The Hill Times. “The intent is to expand on these to not only provide comments on discussion papers, but to invite stakeholders to submit ideas or policy solutions on the government’s environmental priorities.”

The subject of federal cuts to environmental research and consultation resurfaced again last week in an Oct. 20 meeting of the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, which is currently reviewing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency president Elaine Feldman told the committee that $13-million worth of agency funding was due to sunset in 2012-2013, which would lead to the elimination of 80 positions—33 per cent of the CEAA’s work force. Included in that funding is a program for aboriginal consultation on the environmental impacts of industrial projects.

Conservative MP and committee member James Lunney (Nanaimo-Alberni, B.C.), asked Ms. Feldman if the funds due to expire are related to assessments of completed federal infrastructure projects that were part of stimulus spending.

“We have a whole bunch of projects that are approaching completion, an unprecedented number of projects right across the country. Hopefully we’ll be going back to a more normal level, which will require a lower level of functioning. Is that correct?” Mr. Lunney asked Ms. Feldman.

“I don’t think so. What I’m told is there is up to $500-billion of potential new investment in Canadian natural resource projects in the coming years,” Ms. Feldman responded. “If that’s the right figure, then the agency is going to be very busy.”

Ms. May said that the slow and steady elimination of environmental programs and services is happening outside of the public eye.

“They come on a daily basis,” Ms. May said of the cuts, adding ozone monitoring and climate adaptation research to a list of federal initiatives that have been targeted for savings. “When the losses come on a daily basis and fail to get traction in terms of front page news, we’re losing a tremendous amount without a whimper, because Canadians don’t know how bad it is.”

The Green Party leader also echoed Sierra Club Director John Bennett’s statement that “Disrupting communications is the first thing you do when you go to war,” in reference to the elimination of the CEN’s core funding.

“When you consider that for 34 years through different governments we’ve maintained a functioning Canadian Environmental Network with government funding, it’s not something that can be replaced with an online consultation process,” said Ms. May, who recalled working with the CEN on acid rain when she was a environmental policy advisor to the Mulroney government. Ms. May said that she will continue to work to bring Canadians’ attention to the government’s “pattern of behaviour that is driven by a war against the environment.”



Bennett Blog: In war, first disrupt communications …
October 14, 2010


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