New Brunswick

Provincial climate change fund lacks teeth for needed shift, critics say

Critics of the province’s climate change fund say the repurposed gas tax revenue fails to help New Brunswick residents and business reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Province announced a $37.4M fund of redirected gas tax money for climate initiatives

David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, says the climate change fund does not help shift the economy away from fossil fuels. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Critics of the province's climate change fund say the repurposed gas tax revenue fails to help New Brunswick residents and businesses reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

More than $37 million in gas tax money will be redirected into a fund for "climate change activities," Finance Minister Cathy Rogers announced during Tuesday's 2018-19 budget speech.

"We must realize that economic, social, and environmental sustainability are linked, and your government is making these links a priority with today's budget," Rogers said in her speech.

The Liberal government announced a $37.4 million climate change fund that will come from redirected gas tax revenue. (Stephen MacGillivray/Canadian Press)

The previously announced fund has drawn criticism from opposing politicians, activists and the federal environment minister for not complying with federal requirements.

On Tuesday, environmental activists said the money that will be available does little to support a shift to a greener economy.

'Status quo'

The fund is broken down into five parts: $1.6 million for Climate Change Secretariat salaries, $2 million for low-income energy efficiency program, $6 million for the Regional Development Corporation to invest, $3.8 million for future projects and $23.4 million for energy retrofits at government buildings, like schools and hospitals.

The money earmarked for salaries and future projects, about 14 per cent, will not be spent on climate initiatives in the upcoming fiscal year, but Green Party leader David Coon said the vast majority of the $37.4 million envelope won't be spent on new climate programs.

Coon said the only new spending is to increase available salaries for the climate change secretariat. He said the fund is essentially an "accounting exercise."

"Everything else reflects money that's been spent year after year, so it doesn't reflect any new spending on efforts to help New Brunswickers reduce their energy bills and shrink their carbon footprint," Coon told CBC News.

Coon is proposing the creation of a Crown corporation to help the province shift from fossil fuels and to clean, renewable energy.

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, described it as the "status quo."

"It is a missed opportunity to help people take action at home and at work," Corbett said.

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said additional funds need to be invested in climate programs. (CBC)

Corbett said it was refreshing to hear the words "climate change" in a budget speech, calling it a "bizarre breakthrough." And while the fund was the only mention, Corbett said she's hopeful investment in other areas will spur environmental action.

For instance, she said increased investment in tourism could lead to more protected lands.

Feds decide fate of plan

Both Corbett and Coon said additional funds need to be invested in climate programs — the kind of funds generated from a carbon tax.

But they say it's likely the federal government won't approve the plan, saying it's at odds with the purpose of the federal "backstop" — an additional cost to carbon dioxide.

The Liberals have contended Ottawa will eventually give them the green light.

The deadline for provinces to submit their plans is Sept. 1, and the federal government will impose its own carbon tax in non-compliant provinces by Jan. 1, 2019.