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Budget 2014: A missed opportunity for Canada’s parks

You may have heard on the news that the federal budget included significant resources for our national parks and historic canals. However as always, the devil is in the details on budget day. While there is indeed a commitment to invest $391 million dollars over five years for the Parks Canada Agency to “protect and preserve Canada’s rich natural heritage by making improvements to Canada’s national parks”, these “improvements” are focused on repairing roads, bridges and dams located in national parks or historic canals, not on nature conservation. And according to the detailed tables in the budget, there’s only $1 million allocated for 2014-15, and $4 million for 2015-16, with the rest to be allocated in 2016 and beyond.

Meanwhile, our cherished national parks are in trouble. Just last fall, Canada’s Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development highlighted the shocking fact that 43% of national park ecosystems are in a declining state of health, and that recent budget cuts to Parks Canada’s have significantly hampered the Agency’s ability to deliver on its mandate of maintaining and restoring ecological integrity in our national parks.  What’s really needed to “protect and preserve” our national parks is funding for Parks Canada to fully implement its science-based conservation programs, and to continue to create new parks, in partnership with local communities and indigenous peoples.

That’s why CPAWS and our colleagues in the Green Budget Coalition recommended that the federal government invest $40 million per year in our national parks: $20 million to create six new national parks and $20 million for conservation programs in our existing parks. Yes, that’s right – for the cost of about one Tim Horton’s coffee per Canadian per year, Parks Canada would have enough resources to better protect the ecological integrity of our existing national parks, and create at least six new national parks before Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2017.

We understand that Parks Canada needs resources to repair existing roads, bridges and dams. And that these repairs, if they are done well, can lessen the impact of infrastructure on park ecosystems, for example by fencing highways and providing overpasses or underpasses for wildlife, or re-connecting waterways by ensuring culverts allow fish to pass. Parks Canada has taken this approach in the past, and we encourage them to continue to make sure the needs of wildlife are addressed in all of their infrastructure repair projects. However, investing in roads and bridges is not an investment in protecting our natural heritage and we shouldn’t pretend that it is.

The federal government’s long-promised National Conservation Plan is expected to be released within the next few months. This is an opportunity to ensure Parks Canada is properly equipped to deliver on its legislated first priority of maintaining and restoring ecological integrity in our national parks, and to complete a system of national parks that protects examples of the full diversity of Canadian landscapes. We’ll be watching to see if our treasured parks get the attention and investment they need.