Green advocates wonder where environment was in budget
By Joe Couture
REGINA — Lack of environmental leadership in the provincial government’s new budget seems a glaring omission to green advocates in the province and elsewhere.
The Sask. Party government thinks “in the old mindset” that there won’t be funds for environmental projects without economic growth based on “unsustainable production,” said Jim Harding, who works with two organizations in the Saskatchewan Environmental Network.
“But actually, when you look at moving towards sustainability, you get more employment and you stabilize your local economies,” Harding said.
Lorne Scott, a former MLA and current conservation director with Nature Saskatchewan, thinks the environment as an issue is often relegated to the back burner during economic downturns.
“When things get a little tough, the environment is usually the first one to get the axe, yet it still remains very high on the radar screen of the public,” he said. “It is a balancing act, but I think that we certainly could be doing better.”
Environment Minister Nancy Heppner wasn’t available for comment on Friday. Her ministry’s total budget actually increased by about $14 million this budget over last, but contains little in the way of new initiatives.
Capital projects within the ministry will cost $37 million, but most of those focus on forest firefighting capability.
Environmentalists gave the provincial government kudos for providing more money for recycling, but lamented “missed opportunities” to employ potentially profitable new technologies. They also criticized policies on issues including waste management, water, energy, emissions, land and infrastructure.
Lindsay Telfer, the Edmonton-based Prairie director for Sierra Club Canada, thinks Saskatchewan’s government is making wrong moves by “desperately trying to follow in Alberta’s shoes.”
“The (instability) of the Alberta economy shows itself in the rampant boom-bust cycles,” she said. “In addition to the economic busts, we’re also experiencing busts when it comes to ecological and social deterioration of the province.
“Saskatchewan has an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that Alberta made . . . and I think there’s an opportunity for Saskatchewan to get it right.”
In the budget, Saskatchewan seems stuck in an “old way of thinking,” with few green projects despite all the infrastructure spending, Telfer said.
“Green infrastructure development initiatives all create jobs, they all create investment and they all work to improving our environment,” she said. “Hopefully our Prairie provinces will wake up and see those opportunities.”
Amber Jones, leader of the provincial Green Party, echoed that sentiment.
“Let’s start giving (Saskatchewan people) opportunities to invest in green technology so they can be saving money so they don’t need tax breaks,” she said.
Though government and environmental organizations seem miles apart, Scott cautioned against unproductive “us-versus-them” characterizations.
“We would like to work constructively and objectively with the government on various things,” he said. “But we’ve not seen very many olive branches.”