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Go to In the News indexOttawa plan hacks green programs

MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT AND MICHAEL DEN TANDT
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

The new Conservative government has decided to slash spending on Environment Canada programs designed to fight global warming by 80 per cent, and wants cuts of 40 per cent in the budgets devoted to climate change at other ministries, according to cabinet documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The documents also say that the Conservatives' campaign promise of tax breaks for transit passes would cost up to $2-billion over five years, but would result in an insignificant cut in greenhouse-gas emissions because the incentives are expected to spur only a small increase in the number of people willing to trade using cars for buses and subways.

The section of the documents on the budget cuts, written by an unidentified government official after a cabinet meeting in late March that approved the reductions, also said the Tories want to try to claw back $260-million the Liberals had pledged to the United Nations to fund its international climate-change programs.

Federal funding for wind power, considered by environmentalists to be one of the cleanest new energy sources, "is also uncertain," the documents said.

Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, refused to confirm or deny the details in the leak, and said the government hasn't finalized its decisions on climate change. "Once there is an announcement to be made, we'll make one," Mr. Sparrow said.

The documents were obtained by the opposition Liberals and bolster previous reports that large-scale cuts have been under way in climate-change programs, such as the highly visible One Tonne Challenge, which had much of its funding abruptly axed without public announcement in late March.

The Tories have indicated that they are ambivalent about the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change, planning to neither pull out of the treaty nor meet its emission-reduction targets.

According to the documents, the Tories have yet to develop their unique Canadian-based set of actions. "No process has been put in place to determine next steps on climate change or to develop the new 'made in Canada' climate plan," the documents said.

The documents said that while the Tories are trying to save money by cutting the programs designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, they won't cut government staff positions, so most of the money earmarked for climate change will be going to salaries for bureaucrats. "Only $375-million was approved for climate spending, with most of the dollars covering staff salaries until the new government determines next steps.

"What is clear is that staff will have little to do and that they will have no budgets to spend over the next year and that more cuts are coming."

According to the documents, the programs are being eliminated to help fund tax cuts, including the GST reduction the Tories pledged during the election, and to fund the transit-pass scheme.

The global-warming programs are being eliminated even though a Treasury Board review of government spending found that the vast majority of 166 such programs run by Ottawa were considered cost effective.

The review, which was begun by the Liberals and completed last fall, found only 22 programs were ineffective. The Treasury Board information was supposed to be used to reallocate funding from programs that weren't working to those that were achieving better results.

The Liberals did not deal with the review before the election, and many federal initiatives didn't have budget allocations after March 31, the end of the government's fiscal year.

Environmentalists reacted angrily to the cuts. John Bennett, a spokesman for the Sierra Club of Canada, accused the Tories of having a "slash and burn campaign."

The documents also show that senior officials in the Environment Ministry have told the government that its proposed tax credit for transit users will have virtually no impact on greenhouse-gas emissions and only a small effect on riders. "A wide range of data suggests that people are not very responsive to changes in transit fares," said a memo prepared for Ms. Ambrose last week by officials in the office of her deputy minister. ". . . while the ridership impacts of the tax incentives are not known with precision, analysis suggests they will be low."

The six-page memo outlines five transit tax-incentive options, ranging from a 16-per-cent tax credit for all fares, at a projected cost of $2-billion over five years, to a credit for monthly pass holders only, at $1-billion, to the same credit for high-school students only, at a cost of $90-million.

The memo makes clear that the second option is the one the government prefers. But its benefits to transit users may be nullified, the memo states, because "it could be quite easy for the transit authorities to raise their fares to absorb the benefit of the tax credit."

The Canadian Urban Transit Association has estimated that the proposed tax break would increase transit use by up to 30 per cent by 2016. But in another Environment Minister memo drafted for Ms. Ambrose, ministry officials say that, based on a 1997 Canadian study, as well as a U.S. Department of Labour survey in 2004, use can be expected to increase between 2 per cent and 4 per cent. That means the effect on emissions will be negligible, the documents show.

Source: The Globe and Mail

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