For the past few weeks I have been examining Canada’s Public Accounts as published by the Receiver General in an effort to understand the long-term evolution of Environment Canada’s1 budget. Records are provided online back to 1995, and Dalhousie’s Killam Library has hard copies for earlier years. The data reveal historic periods of expansion and contraction, with cutbacks during the Chrétien years rivaling those of the Harper government.
A few notes on presentation:
I use “constant 2015 dollars” as the most appropriate way to compare expenditures from different years. Conversion factors were determined using the Bank of Canada’s Inflation Calculator.
Expenditures are plotted against the fiscal year end; e.g., the 2015 data are for the 1 April 2014 - 31 March 2015 fiscal year.
Figure 1 gives EC’s annual expenditures per capita. I favour a per capita measure because governance needs and environmental risks increase as population grows; all else being equal, one might expect spending per person (in constant dollars) to remain steady. Population numbers for this purpose were obtained from Statistics Canada.
The data show two periods of expansion:
- 1989-91, during the Mulroney majority; and
- 1999-2004, during the Chrétien majority.
The latter expansion was unsteady, with wild oscillations from year to year. I don’t yet understand the reasons for this.
There were also two periods of contraction:
- 1995-1998, during the Chrétien majority; and
- 2009-2015, during the Harper minority and majority governments.
The Chrétien cutbacks followed a period of budget stability between 1991-1995, and were associated with deficit reduction. The Harper cutbacks were of similar depth and were associated with austerity and tax cuts.
Why would the Chrétien regime cut Environment Canada only to restore its budget in the end? Good question. Given that Chrétien left the federal government with a surplus, it does suggest that the original cuts were unnecessary. Unfortunately, they were also quite damaging. It remains to be seen whether or not the new Trudeau government repairs the damage from the latest cuts.
For completeness, Figure 2 gives EC’s raw budget numbers in constant dollars. Expenditures saw gradual growth in keeping with the expansion of EC’s responsibilities. The cutbacks are also readily apparent.
I checked the Receiver General’s numbers against EC’s “Net Cash provided by the Government of Canada” as presented in their Unaudited Financial Statements, and the numbers agree.
In order to present EC’s budget in the fairest manner possibile, I removed expenditures by programs that were moved to other departments/agencies. In particular, I removed:
expenditures for a short-lived forestry program in the 1980s;
expenditures for EC’s Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office that was replaced by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in 1995/96; and
expenditures prior to 1993 for EC’s Parks Program that would ultimately become Parks Canada Agency.
Without these adjustments the data would have inappropriately suggested cutbacks rather than lateral shifts in funds.
Note that because of incomplete reporting, the expenditures in 1982, 1984 and 1985 have some uncertainty. Updates were made to Departmental budgets in subsequent years without similar corrections being provided for the Forestry program.
I’m going to continue to call it “Environment Canada”, in use almost continuously since 1971, rather than the rebranded “Environment and Climate Change Canada”. In the Public Accounts EC is referred to as the Environment Department.↩