Leading environmental voices in B.C. are giving the 2023-24 provincial budget a largely negative review.
BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau said the budget does not address pressing environmental issues.
“Climate change is largely relegated to contingency spending, which I think is a worrisome sign for the government at this point,” Furstenau said during her weekly media availability Wednesday (March 1).
While the government promises close to $1.4 billion toward a “clean and sustainable economy” over three years, only a portion of it flows toward programs promising to address climate change .
The fund include $300 million for climate and emergency response, $100 million toward active transportation, $85 million for emergency management and climate resiliency and $44 million for Clean BC with all monies spread across three years.
Meanwhile, money set aside, but not yet slated for spending, includes $950 million for Clean BC over three years and another $750 million over two years for climate and emergency response.
It is this lack of commitment that Furstenau criticizes.
BC Greens are also critical of other environmental aspects of the budget in pointing out that the budget only invests $300 million in capital funding to repair infrastructure damaged by climate emergencies, when climate emergencies in 2021 cost the province $17 billion.
The province also continues to rely on revenues from the oil and gas sector, while handing out subsidies to large emitters. BC Greens also accuse government of having missed a chance to invest more money into public transit.
“Right now, we don’t have a network of public transportation in this province,” Furstenau said. While residents of Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria can access greater public transportation systems, the rest of the province is a “public transportation desert.”
The budget does include $500 million toward BC Transit over three years, but Furstenau points out that nearly all of the additional money flows into Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria. Transit investments should be directly tied to hikes in carbon tax, because they will result in higher gas prices, but residents in rural British Columbia lack transit options.
Starting April 1, the tax will increase by $15-per-tonne of carbon dioxide each year until it reaches $170 in 2030. It currently sits at $50-per-tonne. The increase means that the tax’s share on a litre of gasoline will rise to 37.4 cents by 2030 from just over 11 cents today.
The budget also includes $100 million in additional funding for BC Parks, as well as improvements to forest service roads. While Furstenau acknowledges this funding, the province could have done more to invest in what she called a “restoration economy” that benefits ecosystems and communities.
The Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director Torrance Coste also questioned B.C.’s on-going reliance on the natural resource sector, which is not only hurting the environment during a climate crisis, but also becoming an economic loss leader.
“It’s alarming to see the province is projecting increased fracked gas production volumes despite estimating a 13 per cent average annual decrease in gas royalties,” Coste said.
He agreed with the BC Greens’ criticism that the budget appears to lack additional funding to help the meet the goals of the Old Growth Strategic Review and other conservation goals.
“We were looking for hundreds of millions of dollars in the years ahead to help enable conservation in old-growth forests and other important ecosystems and support solutions like Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas,” Coste said. “Budget 2023 doesn’t deliver that.”
Like the BC Greens, the Wilderness Committee also supports the higher carbon tax. But unlike the BC Greens, the Wilderness Committee finds more explicit praise for additional investments in the provincial park system and forest service roads. Coste also welcomes the additional $100 million for active transportation and $500 million for BC Transit.
“Getting us out of our cars is crucial if we’re going to reduce our transportation emissions, so we welcome new funding for active transportation and BC Transit. Making it easier for people to access nature is an important responsibility of the government, so it’s also good to see new funding for existing parks and trails.”