OTTAWA — Almost $150 million allocated to help protect Canada's oceans has gone unspent by the Trudeau government over the past two years.
The Liberals have touted their $1.5-billion oceans protection plan as "the largest investment ever made to protect Canada's coasts and waterways" — including efforts to mitigate the potential environmental damage from the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The pipeline is to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to the British Columbia coast for export to overseas markets, resulting in as much as a six-fold increase in tanker traffic and increasing the risk of oil spills and damage to marine life, particularly whales.
But in response to a written question tabled in the House of Commons by NDP fisheries critic Gord Johns about how the ocean protections plan funding has been spent so far, the government admits millions have not been spent.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada says some $85.9 million of its share of the program's funding has not been spent over the past two years.
Environment Canada says it didn't spend $3.5 million of its share of the funding and Transport Canada says it left $59 million unspent.
"We're looking at $150 million just over the past two years that they haven't spent and this is in light of them approving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion," Johns said in an interview.
"They're trying to tell British Columbians and Canadians that they've invested in this world-class oceans protection plan but they haven't actually been rolling out the money."
But a spokeswoman for Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan said the total of $1.5 billion was to be spent over five years.
"There are still nearly two years remaining in the OPP fund and we have ensured that funds remain to continue to support ongoing projects and initiatives," said Jane Deeks in an email. "We have every intention to use the full $1.5 billion by 2021 to protect our oceans for generations to come."
The government has frequently touted the plan to allay concerns about potential environmental damage from increased tanker traffic.
Johns raised the issue Wednesday in the House of Commons, telling the Liberals they need to do more than "brag about their ocean protection plan."
"They refuse to spend over $150 million of funding. They promise to protect our coasts, the marine species and the people who live on them, but they never miss a chance to push dangerous projects like TMX (Trans Mountain) ahead," he said.
"Our coasts are in danger. Pacific wild salmon are in the middle of a historic crisis. When will the Liberals stop breaking their promises, invest the necessary resources and protect our coasts?"
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the oceans protection plan "historic," $1.5 billion worth of investment in "world-class marine protection."
"We will continue to make the investments necessary, including the refurbishment, revitalization and renewal of our coast guard fleet. We know that there is much more to do, particularly around protecting salmon stocks and preserving the wild salmon," Trudeau told the Commons.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2020.
The Canadian Press