In Canada’s Federal Budget, Some Good News for Fresh Water

Yesterday, the federal government released its first budget in two years, after COVID-19 derailed pretty much everyone’s plans last year.

The 2021 budget is a self-titled “Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth and Resilience”—with the stated intention to help get Canada through COVID-19 and set the stage for a post-COVID economic recovery.

At 724 pages, it’s a whopper of a document. There’s a lot in there, and everyone has their takes. But if you’re here, you’re probably particularly interested in knowing if the budget helps secure the health of water in Canada.

The short answer is: yes! Could it be stronger? Also yes. But, there are a number of measures in the budget that we are happy to see. Below, we break down some key “water wins.”

1. Increased supports for green infrastructure and conservation.

For the first time ever, the federal government has introduced a new Natural Infrastructure Fund, which will support municipalities to protect and create green spaces, wetlands, urban forests, riparian areas, and a whole host of other green and natural infrastructure projects. The Canadian Freshwater Alliance has been at the forefront of asking for this fund, and we are very excited to see it in the budget! The budget promises $200M over three years for this new fund. We asked for more: $500M over five years. But this is still a very promising first step, and we’re proud to have been a leading voice, along with our supporters, in calling for this funding.

There are other exciting commitments here: an additional commitment of $2.3B to conserve 25% of lands and oceans in Canada by 2025; a doubling of investment dollars for infrastructure (which may include green infrastructure) under the Canada Community-Building Fund, and lowered funding thresholds in the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation program so that green infrastructure projects are more likely to qualify.


2. Significant investments for clean water and infrastructure in Indigenous communities

According to the Assembly of First Nations, this federal budget included the largest-ever investment in Indigenous communities. There are needed investments that will support a number of different social sectors and priorities, but one of the largest investments is in infrastructure: $4.3B over four years to support “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects in Indigenous communities (which may include water and wastewater infrastructure), $1.7B to support operations of infrastructure on reserves, and another $125.2M earmarked to support First Nations communities’ reliable access to clean water and help ensure the safe delivery of health and social services on reserve.


3. Funding commitment to establish a new Canada Water Agency

After commitments in two previous throne speeches, we were happy to see an actual budget line of $17.4M over two years to support the creation of a new Canada Water Agency.


4. Other environmental spending commitments of note

We won’t name them all here (it is a 724-page document, after all!) but there are some other spending priorities that could have significant impacts on freshwater health that are worthy of mention! One is $25.6M to conduct a first-ever “Census of the Environment”—a plan to develop a baseline understanding of the state of Canada’s ecosystems and species, and monitor ongoing trends.

And, notably, the government has pledged significant dollars to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050: an additional $17.6B for the government’s new climate plan that supports initiatives like residential retrofits, supporting industrial transformation, and emissions reductions in the agricultural sector.

Finally, this budget commits nearly $650M over five years to preserve wild Pacific Salmon and support a transition from open-net salmon farming in coastal waters of BC by 2025.


What We Didn’t See

Although we were happy to see a Natural Infrastructure Fund, we were hoping to also see a dedicated watershed security fund, as British Columbia recently committed to in its ministerial mandates. A Natural Infrastructure Fund could support the protection, restoration and construction of riparian areas, wetlands, and a number of stormwater management assets (e.g. rain gardens and green roofs) that will improve freshwater health. But a Watershed Security Fund could also extend to other initiatives that would be instrumental in protecting freshwater health—such as monitoring. However, we are hopeful that a permanent Canada Water Fund could be an outcome of the forthcoming Canada Water Agency, so rest assured we are on the case!

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