BC Liberal budget threatens environment with funding cuts to key ministries

February 23, 2009

Environmental programs, forests and range all face major cuts in funding as a result of the budget tabled this week. The Environment Ministry budget will fall from $263 million this year to $239 million next fiscal year, and there will be even more cuts in the two following years. Forests and Range loses $38 million, as the budget drops from $806 million to $768 million. And in the two following years, another $76 million will be cut from this budget.

The biggest loss of FTE's in the budget is in Forests and Range, where 63 FTE's will be cut from Compliance and Enforcement, and 19 from Forest and Range Resource Management. But the projected budget cuts for the two following years are even more damaging, with a $54 million cut in FRRM and another $3 million cut in compliance.

Nearly 40 per cent is to be cut in environmental protection, and there will be significant cuts in environmental stewardship [including 6 FTE's], parks and protected areas, and water stewardship. Community based environmentalists, like Gwen Barlee from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee panned the budget, saying "There is almost nothing here that promotes or invests in a sustainable environment... this is a budget of missed opportunities."

In Agriculture and Lands and Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, while there is no cut in next year's budget, each takes a major hit in the two following years. Agriculture and Lands is cut by $66 million from $298 million to $232 million in 2010/11, and EMPR loses almost 50 per cent, dropping from $73 million to $50 million. The Agricultural Land Commission budget is cut, and so is the budget for Land Restoration Programs which will be reduced from $29 million to $8.4 million.

Despite the public commitment by government to take measures to address climate change, there is a large cut in the budget for alternative energy, from $26 million this year to $9 million in 2010/11. Three million dollars is also being cut from the mining budget, along with 5 FTE's.

In Transportation and Infrastructure, the budget for Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement has been trimmed by $1 million, which can only mean more pressure on existing staff and more unsafe and overloaded commercial vehicles on BC roads. Another important safety enforcement body, the Passenger Transportation Branch, faces a huge 40 per cent cut in funding next year, including a loss of 4 FTE's. Highway operations will lose 23 FTE's as part of a $24 million budget cut in that area.

"The breadth of the funding cuts is very disappointing to our members whose professional lives are dedicated to environmental stewardship", says Darryl Walker BCGEU President. "I think many British Columbians had hoped for more vision in the budget , and a greater recognition of how central environmental health is to the well-being of all British Columbians."

The BCGEU is engaging government through Article 29 committees in all ministries to discuss details of spending reductions and to manage change within the guarantees provided by the collective agreements.