Environmental Trust Fund withdrawal shrouded in mystery
Alward government to release $8.5M from the fund, community groups will get $4M
The Alward Government promises to explain on Friday the details behind plans for a large and mysterious withdrawal from the province's Environmental Trust Fund.
In March, the provincial government revealed in its budget that it would be releasing $8.5 million from the fund in 2013, which is the largest expenditure in 14 years and 89 per cent more than was spent from it last year.
Initially that raised the possibility that community groups were to get a major increase in funding this year. However, it was announced on Tuesday that grants to community groups were frozen at $4 million.
The provincial government approved 174 community projects for funding this year, the fewest in more than a decade.
Green Party Leader David Coon said he is giving the provincial government the benefit of the doubt until it can explain where the money is going.
However, he said he will speak out against any move by the provincial government to take that money for itself.
"We have a situation where the premier so far hasn't seen a promise he doesn't break or can't break and he's promised not to do that with the Environmental Trust Fund this year," said Coon.
"If he does there's another promise broken on the long highway of broken promises."
Flush fund misused in the past
The trust fund was set up in 1990 under the McKenna government as a dedicated source of money for community groups undertaking environmental projects.
It receives money from bottle deposits and currently holds about $18 million — one of the few government programs with excess money.
In the past, the fund was used to pay for government activities, including highway brush clearing and tree planting for forest companies, something Progressive Conservative MLAs have criticized in the past, calling it theft from community groups.
More recently, the Shawn Graham government cut funding to the environment department and then diverted money from the trust fund to replenish spending.
Tourism Minister Trevor Holder, who was the Tory environment critic in 2008, accused the Liberals of effectively stealing money at the time.
"People pay that deposit with the idea that the money is going to community projects that get citizens in the province engaged in helping their environment," Holder had said in the legislature.
"Does the Minister of Environment believe that taking $2 million away from beautification projects, sustainable development projects and from engaging New Brunswickers … Does he believe that it is acceptable to take that money and spend it somewhere else?"
To further punctuate the point, the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick dedicated a section of its 2010 election platform to the Environmental Trust Fund issue and pledged that its government would not divert money from that account.
The Environmental Trust Fund exists to fund small-scale community projects in areas such as environmental conservation and awareness.
It makes between $8 million and $9 million a year from the province's bottle deposit program.
Community groups working on environmental issues can apply for grants from the fund.