No doubt the Harper Conservatives are strategic -- even clever. The major national media seems to take the budget as somehow "less" -- less awful, less ruthless, less impact than they had expected. Even changing retirement age from 65 to 67 had lost its shock value with the prime minister's surprise announcement in Davos in January.
For a principled Conservative like Andrew Coyne, the budget failed to meet traditional conservative values. I agree. One of those values was conservation of natural resources.
Killing a deficit is never easy. It involves choices. With our Green Scissors package of proposals, we found lots of places to cut. Cuts to government advertising, the Prime Minister's Office budget, subsidies to fossil fuels, nuclear and biotechnology and many other areas are all areas that could provide serious savings.
The choices made in Paul Martin's time as finance minister were devastating to social services. In recent history, I think most progressive voters would think those were the worst budgets with cuts to health care, downloading to the provinces and so on.
The measure of harm from budgets has become percentage cut in funding. So a six per cent cut in Environment Canada spending or four per cent cut in Parks does not sound like an anti-environmental budget.
Here is why this is worse. The most serious threat to our future is the climate crisis. A responsible government would be working to reduce fossil fuel dependence and maximize jobs in energy efficiency retrofits, conservation, and investments in renewable energy. This budget does not even mention climate change.
Instead, it is re-writing environmental laws and regulations to speed the development of fossil fuels. The Enbridge pipeline and supertanker scheme was clearly a beneficiary of the budget. The so-called "streamlining" of environmental assessment is all about ending environmental reviews at the federal level wherever possible, passing them to the provinces. Incredibly, the budget time limits on environmental reviews are claimed to apply retroactively to the review already underway (and already weakened by the 2010 budget implemention act changes to CEAA) on the Enbridge mega-pipeline across the Rockies to Kitimat to run supertankers through the most treacherous waters on Earth.
Money is being spent in the millions on pipeline agencies, more green-washing for "tanker safety" and money to help develop the off-shore from what looks like the government undertaking seismic testing for the industry.
The budget targets as its primary focus the development of fossil fuels -- off-shore drilling, even targeting the sensitive and highly productive fisheries resource in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on export of bitumen crude for jobs in refineries in other countries, and expansion in the oil sands.
The voices of critics are being silenced. Even the tame, in-house agency, the National Round Table of Environment and Economy is being killed. Created under Brian Mulroney, the NRTEE had continues to talk about climate change. Its reports were developed in multi-stakeholder processes always involving the industry, but even mentioning climate change is dangerous if you are by statute an advisor to government. So its legislation is to be repealed, budget eliminated.
And environmental groups have prompted a new $8 million to the Canada Revenues Agency -- $8 million to develop the new rules to shut down criticism -- to develop "sanctions" against charities that become too "political."
This is devastating. Taken together, this is a war on the environment. It cannot go unchallenged. In the House, Stephen Harper has the votes and after a heated and likely unpleasant round of political theatre, it will pass. We need a grassroots mobilization that says to Stephen Harper, "We will not abandon our children and grandchildren to the ravages of the climate crisis. You have no right to turn your back on our kids. We will stop you."