A Year of New Beginnings (by U. Khan)

The 2016 edition of the Social Progressive Index ranked Canada as the second best country in the world, behind only Finland. Canada did very well in the categories of Basic Human Needs, and Opportunity. There is work to be done however, especially in terms of environmental quality. Canada ranked 32nd in the world in terms of environmental quality, worse than every other G7 country except the United States. As we celebrate another Canada Day, it is time to review the last year and see where progress was made was made in terms of environmental policy and where opportunities were lost.

The timeline of this past year essentially began on August 2nd, 2015, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper called a federal election. The longest election campaign of Canadian history led to various promises by the different parties. The winning Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau promised sweeping changes in terms of Climate Change and the environment. Their plan included a proposal to invest $100 million more each year in terms of clean energy, and increasing government use of clean energies. It also included a proposal to invest $200 million each year to support innovation and the use of clean technologies in the natural resource sector. Politicians however often times have a short memory when it comes to campaign promises. Fear not, as there is a great source to check the progress of the government on its campaign promises. The website TrudeauMeter.ca contains various promises made by the Liberal party in their party platform during the 2015 election. According to this website, in the 243 days in office, the government has only achieved 32 out of the 219 things it promised to do. It has broken 18 of its promises, and has yet to start on approximately half (106) of its promises. In terms of the environment, 3 out of 28 proposals have been completed and 12 more are in progress. The only promise broken by the government in regards to the environment is the plan to remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. To the government’s credit, they are in the process of following through on the two proposals regarding investment in clean energy. It is important to note that the result of this election had an enormous impact not only on environmental policy but also on science policy in Canada. The federal government through its funding has a large role in research and development happening throughout the country. The promise of the liberal government to invest in research appears to be a positive sign for the future.

Arguably, the major environmental news story of last year was the COP 21 summit in Paris. The summit lead to a successful agreement between the 195 countries that aims to keep global temperature increases below 2°C. Canada also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030. Amidst all the talk about policy, the government vowed to pursue new initiates that will utilize new technologies and new ideas developed to combat the problem of Climate Change. This plan includes investing in renewable energies in Africa, for which the government pledged $150 million. This plan is a great step for both Canada and the world in the fight against Climate Change and will lead to a better future. The policies of the government in relation to the COP21 summit were very encouraging from an environmental standpoint and demonstrate the government’s willingness to fight Climate Change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivering his address at the COP21 summit in Paris. Source: Alian Jocard/Getty Images

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Another interesting approach taken by the liberal government was to alter the cabinet portfolios. The federal government changed the name of the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. This is more than just a symbolic move; it helps to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to the issue of Climate Change. The government also renamed of the Ministry of Industry to Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development. By emphasizing the importance of science and innovation to economic development, this change shows that the government understands that science is crucial to any modern economy. It also supports the government’s claim of being in favour of increased spending on research and development.

The budget presented by the liberal government also turned out to be vastly different from the previous government. There was a lot of money allocated to scientific research and academia. Things from new infrastructure grants for universities, to funds allocated to spur innovation; showed that the government was keen to focus on development. Additional funding for the Tri-Council consisting of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) was also increased by $95 million dollars and will help ensure cutting edge research is supported in Canada. All in all, the budget was pro-science and pro-innovation; two things that are necessary for the progress of any country.

 

Some of the other new initiatives are as follows:

  • Support for clean technologies
  • Providing $2 billion over two years to establish a Low Carbon Economy Fund
  • $82.5 million to Natural Resources Canada to support research and development of clean energy technologies
  • $19 million over 5 years to gather traditional aboriginal knowledge about the Arctic area
  • Investing $197.1 million over 5 years in Ocean and Freshwater research
  • Creating a $2 billion Post Secondary Institutions Investment Fund
  • $800 million over 4 years to support innovation networks, supporting initiatives under Industrial Research Assistance Program

Throughout this last year, there have been countless events that have changed the environmental and political outlook of Canada. The arrival of a new government has brought with it many new ideas, and a new optimism to try to solve problems. This can be seen through policy options created for the COP21 summit, transformed cabinet portfolios, and increased funding for research groups. The past year has been the starting point for a new beginning and the coming years will show us their impact. Maybe in the next year, Canada can claim the top spot in the Social Progressive Index ranking.

 

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