By Eric Reder
Manitoba budget and speech 2017 reflects regression, misses link between protecting environment and lowering health care costs
On April 11 the government introduced a budget devoid of initiatives on protecting the lands and waters of the province, while at the same time cutting departmental budgets for water stewardship, parks, and climate change. In addition, the language in the budget speech points to old and regressive thinking on why we protect the environment in Manitoba. Finally, a tasty two million dollars is being thrown to support the fossil fuel industry, which is directly at odds with Manitoba fighting to limit climate chaos.
In a ten-page budget speech, “Manitoba’s Natural Advantage” was mentioned as the last section, low on page nine and obviously low on priority. We are told this government has a responsibility to protect our lakes, forests, and wetlands, and yet there is no initiative or plan mentioned. A look at the proposed budget figures show the truth: cuts to Parks, cuts to Environmental Stewardship, cuts to Water Stewardship and Biodiversity, and cuts to Climate Change and Air Quality.
The habitat protection which is legally required to preserve the threatened boreal woodland caribou is not likely to occur with budget cuts. The health of Lake Winnipeg is not improving, and budget cuts to Water Stewardship will not make the lake healthier. As well, a climate change action plan is mentioned, but cuts to climate change funding makes implementation difficult.
We guessed that we would see budget cuts, but the chosen language used to describe our natural world is obsolete and troubling. Protecting nature and parks “to preserve the opportunities they present for sustainable economic development” misses the reality of our planet, as does “invest in the protection of our natural resources.”
Nature and wilderness, and the intrinsic biodiversity, aren’t just resources. They are the life support system which is responsible for our health. If we considered protecting the environment as Investing in our life support system, it is easy to see why it needs to be a higher priority.
Money spent protecting the environment will be returned with lower healthcare costs in the future, which is a stated priority of this government. The Ontario Medical Association has estimated that air pollution alone costs more than one billion a year in hospital admissions, emergency room visits, and absenteeism. The Manitoba government needs to understand this message.
Finally, hidden under “Other Expenditures” in the Petroleum department of Growth, Enterprise and Trade, an additional $2.1 million is being spent on new software to calculate royalties for the oil and gas companies. We know the fossil fuel industry needs to be phased out in order to prevent increasing climate chaos, so a major investment in it now – especially while climate action funding is being cut – is a waste of money.
Eric Reder is the Manitoba Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee. The Wilderness Committee is Canada’s citizen-funded people powered wilderness protection group, working to protect wild spaces, wild species, and healthy communities through strategic research and grassroots public education.