The future is uncertain for more than 640 environmental groups as Environment Canada announced that it would be withdrawing its funding of the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN), despite assurances of continued funding earlier this year. As the 34 years of financial partnership between the government and the RCEN came to a halt on October 13, the New Brunswick Environmental Network (NBEN), which gets it funding from the RCEN, will be forced to reconsider the continuation of its support services to environmental and conservation groups across the province.
Officially incorporated in 1987, the RCEN is a bilingual, non-partisan organization with affiliate networks in each of the provinces and in the Yukon. “The RCEN consists of over 640 highly diverse large and small, rural and urban organisations from coast to coast to coast,” stated Larry McDermott, Aboriginal Representative and Director of the RCEN, and Executive Director of Plenty Canada in a recent press release. “A huge part of our understanding of environmental issues and traditional, indigenous community, and scientific knowledge and experience has reached Canadians’ kitchen tables largely due to the existence of the Canadian Environmental Network.”
Funding has decreased for the network over the past few years, dropping from just under $1 million to $550,000 annually. The complete withdrawal of funds came as a large surprise to the organization, which had received notification earlier this year of the intent to continue federal funding. “The Canadian Environmental Network received a letter from Environment Canada in May this year stating their intent to continue core funding in the amount of $547,000 for the current fiscal year,” stated Oliver Kolmel, Chair of the RCEN, in a press release. “In keeping with our over three-decades-long partnership, we ask that Environment Canada honour this letter.”
The government has backed the drop in funding, stating that they will move towards more web-based communications for environmental participation. “Responsible spending and sound management of tax dollars are important at all times,” stated Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment Michelle Rempel in the House of Commons on October 17. “The department is moving toward a more direct use of web-based consultation and we already have a number of web pages dedicated to public participation.”
The NBEN, which relies on core funding received through RCEN of $22,000 annually, has been a strong advocate for environmental groups, including over ninety member or associate citizen based groups in NB. “It’s a sad day when the federal government withdraws funding from a truly national institution such as the RCEN and its affiliates right across the country,” commented Grand Lake Watershed Guardian and NBEN chairperson Randy Nason. “When the Grand Lake Watershed Guardians began our work to protect Grand Lake, it was the NBEN who linked us up with other organizations interested in watershed protection to help us hit the ground running.”
A number of Canadians have taken action to get the government to reverse this decision, including NBEN member and second-year Acadia student Jenna Khoury-Hanna, who started a petition one week ago that has secured over 1,000 signatures. “We have some initiatives in the planning process right now to bring more awareness to this issue and to hopefully get others to start applying more pressure to the Environmental Minister Peter Kent to reinstate funding,” commented Khoury-Hanna. “Here at Acadia University, we’ll be setting up tables and encouraging students to sign hard copies of letters that we will be mailing to Peter Kent.”
Other organizations across the country are mobilizing in support of the RCEN. The Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Network is encouraging its members to send letters requesting that funding be reinstated to their MPs and to Peter Kent. MPs have already spoken out in support of the restoration of funds. Halifax New Democrat MP Megan Leslie voiced disagreement with the policy in the House of Commons debate on October 17. “[The Conservatives] are muzzling or firing scientists and now they are eviscerating the communications network of environmental groups across Canada,” asserted Leslie. “The minister claims that it is a rigorous process to manage spending, but while he was cutting half a million dollars from Canadian environmental groups, the government announced $28 million to celebrate the War of 1812. Well, this just in, the real war is the war the government is waging on the environment.”
The RCEN will remain open to the public and for business despite funding cuts, seeing through existing project commitments and procuring new contracts.
Rachel Gardner writes for the NB Media Co-op.