The budget bill is bad news

On June 4, numerous organizations concerned about a sustainable future and a rational approach to decision-making about Canada's natural resources, blacked-out their web pages (Black Out, Speak Out).

On June 4, numerous organizations concerned about a sustainable future and a rational approach to decision-making about Canada’s natural resources, blacked-out their web pages (Black Out, Speak Out).

This was a collective act of protest against the federal government’s assault on this country’s key environmental legislation, and its assault on the essential role of science and federally-employed scientists in managing our natural resources.

The omnibus Budget Implementation Act (C-38) is fundamentally undemocratic and it undermines our hope for a sustainable relationship with the environment. Never before have major changes to numerous fundamental pieces of legislation (regarding issues as diverse as environment, health and intelligence) been lumped into one budget bill.

This removes any serious debate in Parliament or in parliamentary committees, because of the magnitude of the bill, the forced timeline, and the fact that only the finance committee reviews a budget bill.

Bill C-38 would rewrite the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, reducing the number of major projects that will get an environmental review, limiting the kinds of evidence that can be brought before a review, and shortening the length of reviews to force them through.

It is also gutting the federal Fisheries Act by reducing that act’s scope to only those fish populations that can be shown to have economic or subsistence value, thereby ignoring the great majority of fish populations. Four former Fisheries Ministers, two (Tom Siddon and John Fraser) from Conservative administrations, have publicly criticized these changes.

Six hundred and twenty-five scientists have joined together in a letter to the federal government describing the proposed Fisheries Act changes as nonsensical, unwise and irresponsible. Changes to five other pieces of environmental legislation, including the Species at Risk Act, are stuffed into C-38.

The federal government’s cuts to the civil service will remove hundreds of scientists from the federal payroll. Departments with environmental responsibilities such as Fisheries and Oceans, Environment, Parks Canada Agency, and Natural Resources are among the hardest hit.

Funding is being removed for the Experimental Lakes Area in northwest Ontario, a world-class research site that has uncovered many of the issues and solutions to acid rain and aquatic pollutants. Canada has been a world leader in ozone research, and this government will force the closure of most of our monitoring network with devastating consequences for the international community’s understanding of this issue.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy is to disappear, so Canadians will lose an independent assessment of environmental policy directions. These are just a few of numerous environmental program removals and cuts. Meanwhile, this is the same government that has walked away from any serious action on climate change, and continues to silence its scientists who care to talk about the implications of their research.

Black Out, Speak Out is a protest on behalf of democracy and a sustainable environment for ourselves and future generations. The federal government has put both of those core values of Canadian society at extreme risk. This country needs its democracy back, along with strong legislation to properly protect and manage our natural resources and environment.

Donald Reid

Wildlife Conservation Society Canada