Environment, immigration, trains and those who fight gender-based violence will be getting a lot more money in the year to come, according to detailed spending plans tabled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government Monday.
A review of the main estimates for the coming year also shows that the government will be spending a lot less money on most of its regional economic development agencies.
A government’s main estimates offer a window into its priorities. For example, under the previous Conservative government, departments involved in defence or public safety often saw an increase in their budgets while other policy areas — like environmental protection — saw their spending cut.
Overall, spending will be up seven per cent over last year’s main estimates and 2.1 per cent over what the government actually spent last year.
The main estimates outline the base budget for each department or agency. Over the course of the year, that funding can be increased or decreased through supplementary estimates approved by Parliament.
Big spending bump for Environment
Some of the shifts in spending can be explained by programs and projects that have come to an end, or new projects promised in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s most recent budget. And then there are the one-off expenses — such as Library and Archives Canada’s plan to spend $1.1 million to acquire former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s archives.
Many, however, reflect the Liberal government’s policy priorities.
The budget for Environment and Climate Change Canada, for example, will increase to $1.5 billion in the coming year. That’s 53.5 per cent more than it was initially allocated last year and 23.1 per cent more than it ended up spending last year.
The biggest increase in that envelope will be $473 million for the Low Carbon Economy Fund, part of the government’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions. The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change gets $14.5 million, while there will be an extra $14.4 million for the Freshwater Action Plan and $13.8 million more for cleaning up contaminated federal government land.
The estimates say the money will allow the department to provide national leadership on climate change.
However, spending will drop by $12 million for the Species at Risk Act and spending on remediation of contaminated sediment at Randle Reef in Hamilton Harbour will decrease by $15.2 million.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is getting a 43 per cent bump in spending over last year’s main estimates, to $2.3 billion. That’s 17 per cent more than it ended up spending last year.
Much of the increase — $289.9 million — is the result of the immigration levels the Trudeau government set for 2017 and its plan for 2018 “to facilitate the entry of top talent and to support family reunification and protection of refugees.”
Health care for refugees will get an extra $89.8 million and spending on the implementation of biometric screening in the immigration system will increase $28.1 million. Offsetting the increases will be a decrease of $58.1 million in the Syrian refugee initiative, which is entering its final phase.
More cash for border security, new trains
The Canada Border Services Agency is getting an extra $15.4 million to expand biometric screening and $46.4 million for the 2017 immigration levels plan.
Spending on Via Rail will increase 144 per cent over last year’s estimates to $538 million as a result of “an increase in Via Rail’s long term funding.” In the budget, Morneau announced plans to allow Via Rail to replace its aging fleet of rail cars on the Quebec City to Windsor corridor.
The Status of Women coordinator’s office will be getting a 64 per cent increase over last year’s main estimates, to $62.3 million. That’s 40.7 per cent more than its total allocation for last year. Much of that money will fund the government’s strategy to fight gender-based violence.
Cyber-security is getting more money through two departments. Canada’s electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), is getting $33 million more for its IT security mandate, while Public Safety Canada will spend $1.7 million to secure cyber systems outside the Canadian government.
The government is also preparing for the upcoming legalization of marijuana. Health Canada is getting $65.1 million to “administer a federal framework to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis.” The Canada Border Service Agency is getting $7.3 million for its part of the plan and the Public Safety department will get $1.1 million.
Meanwhile, the Canada Revenue Agency is allocating $11.8 million to come up with a cannabis taxation regime.
Regional economic development losing funds
Most of Canada’s regional economic development agencies are taking hits to their budgets. The budget for the Northern Economic Development Agency will be cut 40 per cent compared with last year’s spending estimates.
The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario is down 30.5 per cent, the Department of Western Economic Diversification is down 25 per cent and the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec drops 9 per cent.
However, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is getting a 5 per cent increase in spending.
In the 2015 election, the Liberal party swept every riding in the Atlantic region.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at [email protected]