Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Resistance to Cuts at Environment Canada

On July 5, 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 of the cuts.

As reported in rabble.ca, 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).

The largest amount of job cuts was in Climate Change and Clean Air. The number of full time equivalents (FTEs) were reduced by nearly half, a reduction of 422 FTEs for 2011-2012 with another 100 FTEs slated for elimination 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.

Budget cuts are reducing services and this has dire implications for the issue of water. Conservation, protection and enforcement of Canada's water will suffer due to the Conservative budget. Conservatives are slashing budgets at a time when Canada needs a national water strategy to replace the badly outdated Federal Water Policy which is more than 30 years old.

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.

Substance and waste management is another area of concern. A total of 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.

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.

The letter concludes by saying, "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."

© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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