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The Manitoba government has opted to suspend funding to several environmental groups this year in a bid to help navigate the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving some of the province's eco-advocates to hunt for emergency funds.
Curt Hull is one of only two staff members at Climate Change Connection (CCC), a Winnipeg-based environmental group that works to provide both education and solutions to Manitoba-specific climate issues. Since 2002, Climate Change Connection has relied on a $100,000 grant from the provincial government, which has provided the lion's share of the group's operating funds and paid most wages and expenses, Hull said Thursday.
In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the government failed to deliver on a plan to change the funding process for environmental groups, leaving CCC to scrounge up last-minute funding, and prompting staff to move out of their office space and begin working from home.
Then just weeks ago, Hull said the group was told not to expect the long-promised funding process changes in the foreseeable future, and that their grant for 2020 had been axed.
"We’ve got enough funds in place now to make it a fair bit of the way through this fiscal year, but we’re definitely going to have to look for alternative funds to be able to fully operate through the entire year," Hull said.
"Now that we’ve moved into our home offices we don’t have rent to pay but we still have to pay for telephones, computers, software, all that stuff."
At Thursday's provincial press conference, Premier Brian Pallister said his Progressive Conservative government would be suspending grants to a small number of environmental advocacy groups in order to free up funds for health care and the pandemic response.
A total of nine groups were denied funding this year, Pallister said, including Climate Change Connection, the Manitoba Eco-Network and the Green Action Centre, whose collective funding totals $360,000.
"The fact of the matter is, all of us are in this together, and that includes advocacy groups," Pallister said.
At CCC the suspension of a grant for the second year in a row will force staff to divert their time away from education and advocacy in order to secure enough alternate funding to keep the group afloat, and Hull knows Climate Change Connection has more flexibility than other affected groups.
The Green Action Centre, a Winnipeg-based non-profit that promotes recycling, composting and other activities, noted in an email to supporters Thursday that they had received a letter from the province announcing that their $200,000 annual grant would be suspended this year.
"This ... will directly impact our ability to maintain our sustainable transportation and waste reduction programming and activities that Manitobans depend on," executive director Tracy Hucul wrote.
The Manitoba New Democrats criticized the Pallister government's choice and said the government should reverse the cuts.
"A real leader should think about more than one crisis at a time, and that starts with funding the organizations that push our government to protect our environment," environment critic Lisa Naylor said in a statement.
Hull said the work his organization is doing will necessarily continue regardless of the pandemic, and will still be needed once the pandemic ends.
"The groups that we’re talking about here provide a valuable service to the public, and the service is necessary and it doesn’t take a holiday. The concerns that we are trying to address still remain regardless of the situation with COVID-19, and in fact are going to still be there and if anything amplified by the time this pandemic is over," he said.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
Updated on Thursday, May 7, 2020 at 9:51 PM CDT: Fixes typos
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