From BC’s ancient Douglas fir forests to Newfoundland’s bustling puffin colonies, Canada boasts some of the world’s most spectacular nature, and the government intends to keep it that way. In Budget 2018 released in February, the federal government announced an unprecedented investment in conservation, totalling $1.3 billion over the next 5 years.
The announcement followed calls from parliamentarians and the public to adopt recommendations made by the Green Budget Coalition, demonstrating the power of our collective voice to shape environmental outcomes. Despite the promised amount falling somewhat short of the Coalition’s recommendations, member organizations have applauded the government’s commitment to conservation.
“This is a game-changer for conservation in Canada — a historic investment in nature that will support important work to protect the habitats, animals and plants that are at greatest risk in our country,” – John Lounds, President and CEO, Nature Conservancy of Canada.
“The Canadian government is clearly concerned about wildlife and habitat loss in Canada and this budget shows good intentions to protect new habitats and help species in decline to recover.” – Megan Leslie, president and CEO of WWF Canada
“We congratulate Finance Minister Morneau, Prime Minister Trudeau, and Environment Minister McKenna on making these critical investments. We think that Canada’s wildlife would also applaud.” – Graham Saul, Executive Director, Nature Canada
Equally encouraging was the budget’s focus on collaborative conservation approaches. As nearly 90% of Canadian lands and inland waters are controlled by provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments, partnerships are critical for conservation efforts to be successful. Budget 2018 announced the creation of a $1 billion Nature Fund, to which the federal government will contribute $500 million. Government, non-profit, and corporate partners are expected to collectively raise the other half. While cost-sharing has previously been used for other federal priorities, such as infrastructure and health care, the collaborative model is new to conservation.
In addition to supporting provincial and territorial conservation efforts, the Nature Fund will establish partnerships with two stakeholder groups that have been underappreciated in conservation initiatives to date—Indigenous communities and private landholders.
Indigenous people have a wealth of traditional knowledge, care deeply about the environment, and are eager to be involved. In anticipation of Budget 2018’s release, Valerie Courtois, Executive Director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative told CBC, “Many Indigenous people are saying we want to be a part of the solution when it comes to conservation and dealing with environmental challenges like climate change. This budget and this kind of funding will help them do that.” The Nature Fund will help to build upon existing conservation collaborations between the federal government and Indigenous people, such as the Inuit co-managed Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador.
A portion of the Nature Fund will also go towards securing private lands, which provide habitat to approximately half of Canada’s species at risk. In a recent report, the Smart Prosperity Institute identified a lack of collaboration with private landholders as a major barrier to species at risk recovery in Canada. The new funding creates opportunities for land trust organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada to partner with the government. Doing so could notably improve the success of species at risk initiatives.
The remaining $800 million of promised funds will support federal efforts to protect species at risk, including the Monarch Butterfly. It will also help to strategically expand and improve the management of protected areas. Together with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous partners, the federal government will coordinate a network of conservation areas to ensure that wildlife populations and their habitats are connected.
Budget 2018 is an important step towards achieving Canada’s commitment under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to conserve at least 17% of its land and inland waters by 2020. Although many details remain unknown, the budget reflects a strong commitment to protect Canadian nature, a commitment that Canadians are getting behind. In a recent survey, the majority of respondents supported the government’s proposed investment in conservation, even though less than a quarter approved of the budget as a whole.
Regardless of whether you lean left or right, supporting conservation is important. Healthy ecosystems provide numerous benefits to society, including clean water, climate resilience, improved human health, stronger economies, and more sustainable communities. The historic investment in nature is an investment in Canada’s future. Canadians everywhere should be proud.
What species and habitats would you like to receive funding?