Federal budget low point in freshwater protection push: Lake Winnipeg Foundation
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This article was published 14/04/2022 (350 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The Lake Winnipeg Foundation says the Trudeau government is losing ground on protecting Manitoba’s largest watershed, but the Liberals insist they need more time to get their freshwater strategy right.
“I was not at all prepared for the complete reversal that the federal government made on freshwater funding,” foundation executive director Alexis Kanu said this week.
“This is a huge loss for Lake Winnipeg, and even the setback of one year derails progress that we’ve been making for the last 10 years.”
Ecologists had anticipated the federal budget unveiled April 7 would shore up funding to restore large lakes and river systems, after the Liberals promised last fall to spend $1 billion over 10 years on a new freshwater action plan.
Instead of the expected $100 million for this fiscal year, the Liberals earmarked $19.6 million, with no indication of how much funding will come in subsequent years.
“The future of this initiative will be communicated at a later date,” reads the budget pledge. It offered no breakdown of how the funding will be split between the five water bodies the Liberals cited in last fall’s election, nor a sixth one they have since added.
Kanu noted the last round of freshwater funding, earmarked in 2017 for five years, called for $25 million in each of the past two fiscal years, meaning there are now fewer funds on the table to cover more projects.
“Reading this budget, I was stunned,” she said. “To go from a $1-billion promise just under $20 million is pretty surprising.”
The Liberals argue that’s not the whole story.
“The freshwater action plan is in process of being renewed. We made a very ambitious commitment in the platform,” said Winnipeg South MP Terry Duguid.
He has been the government’s lead on the Lake Winnipeg Basin Program, which funds project aimed at reducing nutrients such as phosphorus, which produce algae blooms on the lake.
“We need a little more time to flesh that out… because we’re expanding the program to include watersheds now across the country,” Duguid said. “Meanwhile, the $19.6 million is just to tide us over.”
Duguid said his understanding is Lake Winnipeg will get a similar amount funding as last year until the national plan scales up, resulting in more money for each conservation region.
But until that happens, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation has revised a report card it issued last month, which gave the Liberals a B-grade in ensuring the lake got adequate continuous federal funding.
“We’ve downgraded that grade to an F,” said Kanu, adding more funding is needed to build on co-ordination with Indigenous nations around the lake and assign targets to specific government bodies.
Duguid countered the province and municipalities need to do more for the lake. He noted his 2003 recommendations as Manitoba’s environment commissioner for better Winnipeg wastewater treatment still haven’t been fulfilled, with agreements for federal funding signed after years of debate.
“Right now, water is fragmented over jurisdiction; it’s everybody’s responsibility so it’s nobody’s responsibility,” the MP said. “We need to scale up our efforts, but to put it at the feet of the federal government only is misplaced.”
Last week’s budget also said a Canada Water Agency the Liberals promised in 2019 will finally get started in 2022, which Duguid said will help execute the freshwater plans.
That agency’s stated purpose will be to co-ordinate water flows and irrigation across the Prairie provinces.
“It has to be a collective effort or it will not work,” Duguid said.
Kanu did praise the Liberals extending $25 million to the Experimental Lakes Area in Kenora, Ont., which researches freshwater.
“The piece missing from the budget is the resources needed to take great ELA research, and turn it into solutions for our lake.”