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How do we “green” the 2014 federal budget?

As the first major snowstorm of the season bears down on Ottawa this evening, I’m wondering what travel challenges tomorrow morning will bring.  I have to make my way to Parliament Hill first thing in the morning for a series of meetings with colleagues from fourteen of Canada’s leading environmental and conservation organizations who are members of the Green Budget Coalition.  Over the next two days we’ll meet with federal Ministers, officials in the Prime Minister’s office, the Privy Council Office, Finance Ministry, as well as MPs from all parties to deliver our recommendations for “greening” next year’s federal budget.

This year, the Coalition’s main “nature recommendation” focuses on developing a National Conservation Plan for Canada.  This has been a longstanding commitment of this government that has yet to be delivered.  In our meetings we’ll be urging the feds to create a plan that recognizes Canada’s unique and globally significant opportunity to conserve nature.  That they lead an effort to scale up our conservation work across the country, to tackle the on-going decline in the health of all of Canada’s major ecosystems in more ambitious and science-based way. 

We’re not suggesting the federal government go it alone --quite the opposite.  To be successful, a national conservation plan has to engage all sectors of society, so we’re proposing that the federal government play a leadership role by convening a dialogue, by setting an ambitious agenda linked to achieving our international commitments to biodiversity conservation, and by taking direct action in areas of federal responsibility like national parks and conserving our oceans.

As one example of direct action they should take, we’re recommending that the federal government invest $40 million per year to create six new national parks (all projects that are currently underway), and better protect wildlife in our existing national parks by Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2017.  We believe that national parks offer a great way to showcase our magnificent country as part of Canada’s big birthday bash.

In this era of fiscal constraint and limited federal spending it may seem like pushing a rope uphill to be recommending any kind of new spending in the upcoming budget.  But the reality is that investing in conservation is not only an investment in the health of our natural environment, it’s also a very good economic stimulus measure.  The unspoiled natural beauty and wildlife in our national parks also makes them big economic engines as foundations of our tourism industry.  In 2011 our national parks supported 33,000 jobs across Canada.  Every federal dollar invested in our national parks resulted in $6 being generated for Canada’s economy, while a full 40% of the federal spending was returned to governments in tax revenues.  Not a bad return on investment!

So, assuming I can dig my way out of the snowbank tomorrow morning, I’ll be making the case on the Hill that an investment in nature and our parks is a win-win opportunity for nature, for communities, and for the economy.  Wish me luck!

You can read our full recommendations document here.