Exactly, Chair. I'll begin.
I'm very grateful to be here with the committee and indeed on this occasion with my colleagues in the portfolio. I think it's the first time we have done that, certainly any time recently.
With me also from the Department of the Environment is Cécile Cléroux, who is the assistant deputy minister of our largest branch, the environmental stewardship branch, and Basia Ruta, our chief financial officer in the department.
It is a pleasure to be here, as acting deputy minister, to respond to questions on the department's main estimates.
We also have other colleagues with us, should the committee members want to put questions of a more detailed nature to us. We're here to provide whatever information we can; and, as always, we'd be happy to follow up if we don't have the immediate information at hand.
I'd like to point out with reference to the main estimates, Chair, that Environment Canada's budget has undergone a few changes in comparison with the previous year. It might be helpful to give you a brief explanation of these.
First, to ensure that our results structure aligns with government priorities, our program activity architecture has changed slightly from the previous year. If you were to reference page 7 of the report on plans and priorities, you will note that the initiative to revitalize the Toronto waterfront, along with the Harbourfront Corporation, has been added to the list of 2008-2009 program activities. For that fiscal year, our main estimates total $957.5 million, which is approximately $115.5 million more than the 2007-2008 main estimates. Of this increase in funding to the department, the majority of the variance is targeted towards grants and contributions, largely relating to the Toronto waterfront revitalization initiative and the Harbourfront Centre—$92 million in this case.
Those two items aside, the department's 2008-2009 main estimates are largely comparable to those of the previous year.
The department also receives re-spendable revenues—what we refer to as “vote-netted revenue”—which amount to $68 million in the current year. That amount is mostly attributable to activities such as licences, permits, and the meteorological services we provide to National Defence and NavCan. VNR is netted out in the main estimates.
I'd also note that through the 2008-2009 supplementary estimates (A), tabled on May 13, Environment Canada is seeking $74.6 million in new funding for initiatives such as the implementation of the national vehicle scrappage program and the implementation of fresh water initiatives. These were referenced in the budget, of course.
Overall, the funding provided to the department this year will allow us to continue our work on the environmental agenda and meet the government's key priorities in this area. This includes working to conserve our nation's biodiversity, to predict weather as effectively as possible in order to reduce the risks that Canadians may need to control, and to protect citizens and the environment from the effects of pollution and waste in areas such as water and chemical management.
Undoubtedly, climate change is the greatest priority of our department. We are working to implement the “Turning the Corner” action plan, introduced last year for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air emissions. This framework was recently expanded in March 2008 to include strong new sector-specific reductions aimed at the oil sands and electricity sectors.
Internationally, as the committee knows, we're actively participating in negotiations on a post-2012 international agreement on climate change.
We're also working to protect and preserve the diversity of our environment, for example, through the natural areas conservation program, a partnership created with the Nature Conservancy of Canada last year. A number of properties have been purchased under that program, such as a significant one in the Qu’Appelle Valley region of Saskatchewan this year.
We're making investments to protect our oceans and water, working to fulfill the government's commitments in this area through the action plan on clean water to clean up our rivers, lakes, and oceans—in this case, the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe, and Lake Winnipeg.
Significant investments are also being made in improving our enforcement capabilities so that we can give our environment the protection it deserves. For example, in the March 2008 budget $21 million over two years was allocated to support the enforcement of Canada' s tough environmental laws by increasing the effectiveness of environmental enforcement officers with better forensics laboratory support, data collection, analysis and management systems. This follows on the $22 million identified in Budget 2007 to support a 50 % increase in the number of environmental enforcement officers hired.
Lastly, Budget 2008 provided an increase in funding for the ongoing work under the chemicals management plan, which, as the committee knows, is Canada's plan to take immediate action to regulate substances harmful to human health and the environment.
Chair, these are the main highlights and some examples of the work that we've been doing and the areas where work is being done to meet our environmental objectives. As the committee knows, we remain committed in the department to advancing the environmental agenda. To do this, we want to ensure that the appropriate conditions are in place so that we can respond to the environmental challenges in front of us with the right mix of laws, regulations, and market incentives.
Thank you, Chair, for giving me this time to make these comments to introduce the session. As you know, we'd be happy to answer questions.
With your approval, I'll turn to my colleague, Mr. Latourelle.