The 2016 Federal budget – From a conservation perspective

Written By: Éric Hébert-Daly Last week, the Minister of Finance released the Federal Budget. As was widely reported, it was a budget that went pretty far when it came to new spending. So let’s take a look at the ways in which this budget will help conserve Canada’s wilderness. Firstly, as most will know by now, the government has committed to providing free entrance to our National Parks, National Marine Conservation Areas and Historic Sites in 2017 as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations that Canada is undertaking. This will be a great way to introduce people to our national treasures. The budget had a significant investment in the creation of new protected areas, particularly when it comes to our marine environment. The investment is needed if Canada is to meet its international targets of protecting at least 10% of our oceans by 2020 (we are barely at 1% now). The investment in the creation of new parks is also needed and it was a particular treat to see that Thaidene Nene, a new National Park in the NWT, has been singled out. While not a significant budgetary item, we need our federal government to bring the provinces and territories together to work on meeting our objectives when it comes to protecting 17% of our land. If Canada continues to create new protected areas at the pace we’re going now, it will take us until 2117 to meet the 17% target (we are currently at 10%). And this is only the first step on a journey towards protecting at least half of Canada’s wilderness, which is what is needed for the survival of healthy ecosystems. The federal government needs to apply its science capacity, convene and work with indigenous communities, and create a national movement to achieve this goal. It would be great to see governments across Canada offer the country the gift of nature for its 150th birthday. What more appropriate gift could there be than iconic Canadian wilderness protected for future generations? It’s a real legacy. And the beauty of creating new protected areas is that it doesn’t cost that much to do. 90% of Canada’s land is public – and therefore subject to laws and decisions of governments. We don’t have to buy public lands to protect them, we just need to bring the right people together to start imagining what is possible. That’s an exciting nation-building project in my view! The reinvestment in science capacity in marine ecosystems is crucial and welcome. A similar reinvestment on the science and monitoring capacity of Parks Canada will be needed in the years to come if the agency is ever going to be able to meet its legal requirements to ensure ecological integrity in our parks. The infrastructure investments in our parks areplentiful in this budget. Significant dollars have been invested in the twinning of the highway in Yoho National Park (along with fencing and wildlife crossing bridges), paving of highways in Wood Buffalo National Park, and new bike and pedestrian paths in Jasper and Pacific Rim National Parks. Also include are  important investments in dealing with climate change. One might argue that these are the largest investments of the entire federal budget. It will be important for the federal government to keep in mind that conservation is a key component of any effective climate change strategy. Intact ecosystems can be important for carbon storage, and well-designed protected areas can ensure that species have room to adapt and migrate as the climate changes. The reinvestments in the Experimental Lakes Area and the development of a stronger Canadian Environmental Assessment Act are good news for the health of ecosystems in Canada as well. All in all, CPAWS welcomes this budget with enthusiasm and looks forward to working with the government to implement these commitments and work towards our longer term goal of protecting at least half of Canada’s land and water.