March 26, 2007

Ontario budget supports a broad range of environmental activities

Ontario's 2007 budget, presented by provincial Finance Minister Greg Sorbara on the heels of the federal budget, lays out close to $125 million in immediate environmental initiatives, plus another $200 million over the next three years to fund further climate change initiatives.

Among the near-term environment-related provisions are:

* rebates to homeowners of up to $150 for home energy audits that assess energy consumption, for a total of up to $24 million over four years;

* $2 million to the Trees Ontario Foundation to support accelerated tree planting, which will helps clean Ontario's air and remove carbon dioxide; and

* $1.5 million for Project Porchlight, through which local volunteers will deliver energy-efficient light bulbs to more than 500,000 Ontario homes this summer.

The approximately $325 million in environment-related activities will come from Ontario's $586 million share of the federal government's ecoTrust initiative for clean air and climate change, and will build on existing and continuing provincial efforts.

New investments in transit, through the Move Ontario program, will help alleviate gridlock in larger cities and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in all communities. Ontario will provide $352 million to municipalities immediately, based on transit ridership, and is committing $85 million toward Phase II of York Region's VIVA transit express bus service, as well as investing one-third toward the Kitchener-Waterloo Light Rail Transit system (along with federal and municipal partners).

Other budget commitments aimed at improving air quality and reducing GHG emissions include:

*a proposed extension of the retail sales tax rebate for residential purchases of solar, wind, micro hydro-electric and geothermal energy systems to purchases made before January 1, 2010; and

*support for the production of ethanol fuel in Ontario through the $520 million Ontario Ethanol Growth Fund.

The government is investing in the research and innovation needed to help Ontario's automotive sector become a world leader in alternative fuels and clean vehicle technology. The 2007 budget will support the development of new environmental technologies, providing:

* $21 million to Queen's University, which is working in partnership with the private sector to establish a convergence centre for bio-products and bio-materials;

* $15 million to the Ontario Centres of Excellence, which promote links between academia and businesses to bring to market energy innovations, such as low-carbon technologies;

* $6 million to the Ontario BioAuto Council, a multi-industry initiative that will help make Ontario a leader in manufacturing auto parts and other materials from agricultural and forestry feedstocks;

* $6 million to Lakehead University, which is building capacity to support competitive and sustainable development of Ontario's boreal forest;

* $3 million to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, which is developing its capacity in hydrogen technology research; and

* $400,000 to the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance, an organization of industry, academia, local and regional Durham governments committed to developing sustainable energy for Ontario.

The Ontario government will invest $7 million this year in the new drinking water stewardship program under the Clean Water Act, and will invest another $21 million over the next three years to support outreach, education and early action to protect drinking water sources across the province. The province will also continue its $120-million commitment to fund source water protection planning from 2004 to 2008, and will contribute over $30 million to meet its commitments under the new Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA). The government has reiterated its pledge to fulfill all 121 recommendations arising from the Walkerton Inquiry, noting that to date, 87 have been implemented and all others are underway.

Other budget commitments address brownfields cleanup, waste management and diversion, and green space. Allocations include:

*$11 million to help Hamilton, Cornwall, Brantford, St. Catharines and the University of Ottawa clean up and redevelop brownfield sites;

*$305,000 to help six municipalities-Toronto, Windsor, Hamilton, Peel Region, London and Quinte-that are undertaking apartment recycling pilot projects;

*$325,000 to the Recycling Council of Ontario, which is developing a zero waste toolkit for upcoming community information events and working to encourage the use of reusable plastic bags; and

*$2 million to the Rouge Park Alliance, which works to protect, restore and enhance the natural, scenic and cultural values of the park.

Full details of the Ontario budget may be viewed on-line at www.ontariobudget.ca.

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