The end of federal eco-funding

Members of the Manitoba Eco-Network relate how federal budget cuts affect them

Kristine Koster of the Manitoba Eco-Network says half a million dollars in funding cuts to the Canadian Environmental Network has driven her organizations into a deficit. Dylan Hewlett

Many Manitoba environmental organizations are being driven to a dismal state because of half a million dollars in funding cuts to the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN), a federal organization.

Kristine Koster of the Manitoba Eco-Network, a regional affiliate of RCEN, says the cuts have driven her organization into a deficit.

“Eighteen thousand dollars was promised to us through an agreement we assumed the federal government would honour,” she said. “We can’t just make up that money, we will be in a deficit.”

The network is looking for alternate funding options through charitable donations. However, not all RCEN regional affiliates are as fortunate as Manitoba’s, added Koster.

“There are ten regional affiliate networks across Canada and of those only three have confirmed they will stay open,” she said. “A lot of them do not have charitable status so they can’t reach out to charities - without government funding they will just not stay open.”

The finances dedicated to the Manitoba Eco-Network support many of the 50 organizations associated with them. Among these groups are the University of Winnipeg’s campus sustainability office and the department of environmental studies.

Kisti Thomas, a research assistant from the campus sustainability office, said 10 per cent of the office’s budget has disappeared as a result of the federal cuts.

“Losing 10 per cent of your budget will obviously have an effect and it is even more difficult when it is cut without warning,” she said. “Some programs will be postponed and there will be less educational opportunities until alternative funding is found.”

The office has yet to issue an official statement about specific programs affected by the cuts and where alternative funding will come from, Thomas added.

“Official decisions have not been made yet,” she said.

Alan Diduck, director of environmental studies, noted the cuts have implications for all Canadians.

“I am convinced students and other Canadians could potentially be harmed by having a federal government more interested in short-term economic growth and exploitation of natural resources than in long-term human and sustainable development,” he wrote in an email.

Although Tabitha Langel, co-owner of Tall Grass Prairie, another member of the Manitoba Eco-Network, does not receive environmental funding, she believes the cuts will still affect her indirectly.

“We use quite a lot of green packaging as it becomes available on the market,” she said. “Eco-network creates funding for research on these things and it will become more difficult to get any movement on green packaging.”

The cuts will have a residual effect on all Canadians, Langel said.

“When everything needs to be more green, it affects all of us as Canadians,” she said. “This is an embarrassment.”

Chemical Sensitivities Manitoba, an organization researching the harmful affects of household chemicals used everyday by Canadians, depended on RCEN to lobby the government for their cause, Koster said.

“(The organization) looks at products on shelves throughout Canada and tries to find what is harmful to everyone in Canada and they depended on RCEN to be a national voice on these topics,” she said. “This is appalling and not acceptable.”

Koster said Manitobans should contact their parliamentary representatives about this issue immediately.

“If Manitobans are reading this, they should be contacting their member of parliament to insist that the government rethink and reverse this decision,” she said.

Published in Volume 66, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 17, 2011)

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