February 9, 2004

Federal Throne Speech promises new deal for cities, millions in funding for toxic site cleanups

The federal government last week put major funding commitments behind its pledges to support sustainable cities, meet Kyoto Protocol goals and clean up severely contaminated sites. Its agenda and goals were spelled out in last week's Speech from the Throne officially opening the third session of the 37th Parliament.

Canadian municipalities received welcome news that they will receive a full rebate of the GST which will provide $7 billion in stable new funding over ten years. This reliable, predictable and long-term source of funds will help shore up deteriorating infrastructure and support quality of life and sustainable growth.

Moreover, funding from this source is already building, Prime Minister Paul Martin having announced February 1, 2004 as the effective date. This, he said, represents a down payment toward clean air and water, urban transit, good roads and affordable housing.

The federal government also pledged to work with the provinces to create a long-term funding strategy that will involve sharing a portion of the gas tax or some similar mechanism, and include provinces in the debate.

Another item high on the agenda was a promise to balance sound fiscal management with investments in skills and training, new technologies and the environment.

The Martin government reiterated its commitment to the Kyoto Accord and promised to develop an equitable climate change plan in co-operation with the provinces and other stakeholders.

At the same time, the government said it will put its own house in order by undertaking a ten-year, $3.5-billion program to clean up contaminated sites for which it is responsible. This will be augmented by a ten-year, $500-million program for the remediation of certain other sites, notably the Sydney tar ponds.

The government also intends to intensify its commitment to clean air and clean water in two important ways. It will pursue dialogue with the U.S. on transboundary issues with and the provinces to achieve more stringent national guidelines on air and water quality. And it will allocate needed resources to ensure safe drinking water in First Nations' communities.

The Throne Speech further commits the government to begin incorporating key indicators on clean water, clean air, and emissions reduction into its decision making. This will build on recommendations of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), which in 2000 launched its three-year, multistakeholder Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators (ESDI) Initiative.

The purpose of this program was to develop a small set of credible and understandable indicators to track whether Canada's current economic activities threaten the way of life for future generations. The final report of the ESDI Initiative, Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators for Canada, was released in May 2003. It includes several recommendations on a small set of six indicators on improved data structures. It also includes a section on the "state of the debate" on indicators, describing the key areas of disagreement that arose during the program's deliberations. (More information is available on the NRTEE Web site, www.nrtee-trnee.ca.)

Additionally, the government has promised to increase its support for innovative environmental technologies and further encourage their commercialization. Martin announced a number of appointments and other structural changes to government to support this and the other commitments outlined in the Throne Speech. Among other things:

--a national science advisor to the Prime Minister will be appointed, to work closely with the National Advisory Council on Science and Technology;

--parliamentary secretaries will be appointed, one to support the Prime Minister on science and small business and another with special responsibilities for cities to focus on implementation of Ottawa's new deal;

--a Minister of State (Infrastructure) will be created sustainable development principles will be integrated into the infrastructure program as well as other federal programs;

--the creation and growth of innovative Canadian companies will be fostered by more effective commercialization of university research and better access to early stage financing;

--the development of value-added industries in the resource and agriculture sectors will be promoted; and

--more support for access to markets by small business will be provided.

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