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Canada continues to face major challenges, including 1.4 million unemployed, stagnant economic growth, a crisis in retirement income security, and growing inequality. The 2012 federal budget, tabled last month by Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, will do little to address these problems, and many of the measures introduced in the Harper Conservatives budget plan will create only more challenges for Canadian workers and communities.

For example, in this budget there is a substantial emphasis on natural resource extraction that will have considerable negative environmental impacts. This is clearly a Big Oil budget designed to fast-track oil sands development for sale to Asian markets primarily.

Focusing on oil and gas

Environmentally, this budget focused a lot on oil and gas extraction, forestry and mining. This reflects an old-school perspective of Canada as a reservoir of wood, fossil-fuel based energy sources, and minerals that we can sell to the rest of the world. There is absolutely nothing innovative in this; it fits with the cliché view of Canadians as hewers of wood and drawers of water. By contrast there is nothing to stimulate renewable energy, promote public transit or anything at all that pushes Canada in the green economy/green society direction.

Streamlining” and weakening environmental assessments

The federal environmental assessment process will be shorter, thereby streamlining the process by which projects such as the northern BC pipeline might get approved. This shows a further oil-extraction bias on behalf of the federal government. The federal government is not interested in a fair, comprehensive or balanced environmental assessment process. Speeding up environmental assessments will mean failing to do the work necessary to understand the human health and environmental risks of pipelines in Alberta and British Columbia and tankers in the BC coastal islands. Moreover, it runs roughshod over the community consultation process – including Aboriginal communities – to help give Big Oil a free pass to sell to China and other markets.

Silencing environmental activism

The new scrutinizing of funding for environmental groups is a warning shot aimed squarely at those who disagree with the federal government. It is an attempt to intimidate and silence those in favour of environmentalism and quell dissent. All social justice groups should be concerned with this move.  

Shutting down an important Roundtable on the economy and the environment

The shutting down of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy is further evidence the federal government has zero interest in addressing climate change in any meaningful way or in promoting the green economy. It likewise shows the federal government is not interested in listening to diverging perspectives on environmental issues.  

Business-driven research

The funding boost for the National Research Council to refocus on business-driven, industry-relevant research is disturbing but consistent with the government’s plan to plough ahead with the oil sands at the expense of innovation in other energy spheres. This is also ideological, as the federal government has for a few years now been clamping down on scientists – for example by limiting scientists access to the media – who might present views that deviate from the federal government’s.

No strategy on climate change

There is no mention in the budget of anything to meaningfully mitigate climate change. Carbon capture and storage is not mentioned and it has been a staple in recent federal government budgets. It is beyond ironic that the budget promises $99.2 million for dealing with community flooding when the same government promotes oil extraction while doing next to nothing to cut greenhouse gases that cause climate change that contributes to flooding.