Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be here. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet with the committee to discuss your agenda, the government's environmental agenda, and legislation that is before us.
Once again, thank you for affording me the opportunity to be here to discuss the main estimates for my portfolio, which includes Environment Canada, the Parks Canada Agency, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
As mentioned, I'm joined by my able deputy, Mr. Ian Shugart. Along with us are a number of other departmental officials, who will be pleased to respond should any of your questions require any additional discussion.
It's been just under two months since I last appeared before you, but in those eight weeks, much has transpired to push our government's environmental agenda forward down the path toward reduced greenhouse gas emissions and toward a more secure energy future, in keeping with our overall responsibilities as stewards of the environment.
About a week after I was last here, President Obama travelled to Ottawa for meetings with the Prime Minister, from which emerged the foundational beginnings of a North American partnership on questions of continental energy security and environmental integrity.
I was fortunate enough to be included in those meetings. I met with both the President and Carol Browner, his adviser. I can attest that our conversations with the American representatives were healthy and productive, and that all of us have come away with an optimistic outlook in terms of how our countries can best address the challenges that lie before us.
While it's true that the clean energy dialogue is at this point in its infancy, the commitment made by the American and Canadian federal governments is clear, and it is a demonstration of the renewed appetite for cross-border collaboration on both environmental and energy issues. In fact, since President Obama's visit, I've travelled to Washington a number of times. For instance, just days after the dialogue, I met with senior White House environmental advisers and key members of Congress to begin addressing the clean energy dialogue in its main elements.
As you know, the principal stated elements of that dialogue include what I would essentially refer to as three working groups. Expanding clean energy research and development is the first of those. The second is the development and deployment of clean energy technology, including, but not limited to, carbon capture and storage. The third is the design and construction of a smart electricity grid in a North American context, based on clean and renewable energy availability.
Since my first visit to Washington, I've continued the conversation with my key American colleagues, both to maintain the clean energy dialogue momentum and to discuss other issues that are of environmental significance both continentally and globally. As was the case with the President's first visit, my discussions in Washington have been fruitful, and I think they provide a sound basis for proceeding forward on a continental approach to matters.
The same can be said of our similar pursuits on a domestic and international front. The 2008-09 fiscal year was a busy one for my department, but also a productive and successful one. I'm confident that we can again meet the expectations of Canadians.
I look forward to the discussion with you about climate change. As I will outline, our intent is to proceed on three parallel pathways--domestic, continental, and international--all of which intersect, in a sense, through the year, culminating in Copenhagen in December.
In terms of environmental accomplishments, ours have run the gamut from progress on climate change, both at home and abroad, to better-protected waters, to additional enforcement capacities, to cleaner air, and so on. I'd like to give more detail on a few of the accomplishments to demonstrate our environmental commitment. You may wish to relate this to the estimates themselves.
We have been making progress on our clean water agenda with the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence, Lake Simcoe, and Lake Winnipeg, to name some of our more visible initiatives. We will take future actions with respect to municipal waste water regulation.
We have tabled a new environmental enforcement bill that cracks down on polluters, poachers, and wildlife smugglers through increased fines, stronger sentencing provisions, and new enforcement tools. I know you wish to discuss that today.
This legislation builds upon the combined $43 million in funding, from budgets 2007 and 2008, that is being used to put more enforcement officers on the ground and ensure that strong cases are pursued by way of successful prosecution.
We launched a vehicle scrappage program that offers incentives to Canadians who turn in their older, higher-polluting vehicles and promotes sustainable transportation.
We hosted an important polar bear round table to set the scene for consultations related to listing the polar bear under the federal Species at Risk Act.
We've continued to collaborate with Canadians, and Health Canada in particular, on the national air quality health index. It helps Canadians make decisions to protect their health by limiting their short-term exposure to pollution and adjusting their activity levels during periods of heavier pollution.
Finally, our environmental action continues with the introduction of Canada's economic action plan, which includes more than $2 billion of specific items relating to green investments designed to protect the environment, stimulate our economy, and transform our technologies.
Some of the most noteworthy investments include: $1 billion over five years for clean energy research development and demonstration projects, including carbon capture and storage; a new $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund over five years to support projects like public transit, sustainable energy and waste management; and $300 million over two years to the ecoENERGY Retrofit Program to support additional energy-saving home retrofits.
Specific environment Canada and Parks Canada-led investments in the Economic Action Plan include: $97.5 million over the next two years to manage and access federal contaminated sites; more than $30 million to support the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline Project; and $10 million to improve the government annual reporting on key environmental indicators, such as clean air, clean water and greenhouse gas emissions; and more than $200 million from Parks Canada to improve highways and roadways in our national parks and make them safer for visitors.
In addition, Environment Canada is submitting proposals to access funding in two items led by other government departments, including $85 million over two years to maintain and upgrade key existing Arctic research facilities, which falls under the purview of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; and more than $200 million over two years to maintain federal laboratories, which the Treasury Board Secretariat will oversee.
Mr. Chairman, the year 2009 signals a key milestone for international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas and better protect the earth from harmful emissions.
I am interested in the views of the committee and your cooperation in working together. As you may recall, I actually included the critics in our discussions at Poznan, in the most recent COP conference.
At the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen next December, the world is expected to agree on the post-2012 way forward to address the challenges of a warming plant. In Copenhagen we will build on the progress made at the previous Poznan conference, the Bonn conference, which is currently going on, and a number of other conferences that will take place in the time before December.
Last December, I led the Canadian delegation at Poznan, where we urged the international community to adopt a post-2012 vision that places the world on the path to a low-carbon future. There is no doubt that Copenhagen will be an important conference in the fight against climate change. Canada fully intends to once again play a lead role in moving the world towards action.
However, what we do prepare for in Copenhagen is equally important, which is why I'm here today to clarify my department's 2009 and 2010 main estimates. During the next fiscal year, Environment Canada plans to spend a little over $1 billion to meet the expected results of program activities and contribute to its strategic operations and outcomes. These include restoring, conserving, and enhancing Canada's natural capital; reducing risks and contributing to the well-being of Canadians through environmental predictions and services; and protecting Canadians and their environment from the effects of pollution and waste.
Meeting these strategic outcomes would mean that we were successful in addressing our key priorities. Those include reducing greenhouse gas emissions through domestic action and through international agreement; second, protecting Canadians from air pollution and the toxic substances by continuing to implement the chemicals management plan; and third, strengthening the meteorological and environmental services our department provides to Canadians.
Additionally, we intend to take action to improve biodiversity and water quality by implementing the Species at Risk Act and carrying out work under the action plan for clean water.
We intend to enhance the enforcement program to improve the environmental outcomes and the environmental legislation of activities.
We have continued to take leadership on environmental initiatives for the clean air agenda, the federal contaminated sites action plan, and sustainable development legislation.
And finally, we will strengthen the support to program activities by enhancing the enabling functions in the department.
Of our $1.081 billion forecast spending, Net Main Estimates amount to over $900 million, all of which will go towards internal services and meeting our objectives in clean air, chemical management, water, environmental science and monitoring, weather and environmental prediction, biodiversity and wildlife, legislation and information, and ecosystems initiatives.
Cast against last year's main estimates, you will see a $35.2 million increase in our forecast spending. This increase occurred despite a decrease in planned spending of $91.7 million associated with the transfer of responsibility for the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Initiative and the Harbourfront Centre to the Minister of Finance—two initiatives not considered to be core Environment Canada functions.
This represents an over-$100-million increase to our core business activities, growth that is principally attributable to key initiatives like the National Vehicle Scrappage Program, Environmental Law Enforcement, the Clean Air Regulatory Agenda and the National Water Strategy.
As I mentioned when I began, my portfolio also includes the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and the Parks Canada Agency. Let me briefly speak on each of these areas and outline their priorities for the coming year.
First, on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, environmental assessments will be a key element in ensuring that the environment is protected. Since the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act came into force in 1995, Canada's environmental economy has benefited from better-designed projects where adverse environmental effects are avoided and are minimized.
Over time we have experienced significant challenges in implementing the act. For example, delays in initiating the federal environmental assessment process make coordination with provincial processes difficult and can cause duplication. Delays also add to proponent costs, create confusion with public participants, and do little to add to environmental protection efforts.
Just last month I announced that we have taken targeted action to streamline overreaching and duplicative federal environmental assessment requirements for infrastructure projects. We now have two regulations that will help focus our resources by eliminating unnecessary environmental assessments for public projects where we know, from our accumulated experience, that there are no significant adverse environmental consequences, and where, in fact, there are often net environmental gains.
We'll also avoid unnecessary duplication with provincial processes when a project requires both a federal and a provincial environmental assessment and the end result will be the creation of jobs and projects that begin sooner.
Over the coming months, we will look at additional options to ensure timely assessments and to focus federal resources on environmental assessments where they will have the greatest benefit. Protecting the environment will continue to be a priority, and environmental assessment for projects that entail environmental risks will continue to be rigorous.
With respect to Parks Canada, Mr. Chairman, in light of the time, I would suggest that I come back to those points in the context of the question and answer period, and similarly with respect to the national round table.
As I wrap up, I want to remind the committee that my one fundamental principle as Minister of the Environment is to protect and improve our environment. The funds represented by these main estimates enable Environment Canada and its portfolio agencies to do their part to make our country and our world greener.
Together, the main estimates and the budget 2009 commitments will promote real action on the issues that matter most to Canadians--environmentally healthy and sustainable communities, energy efficiency, and continued economic growth.
Mr. Chairman, I hope this summary of where we are headed with respect to the environment and this clarification of our main estimates provide the committee with the insight that we need to begin today's discussion. I'd be pleased to respond to any questions that you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.