The February 2 Speech from the Throne promised $3.5 billion over ten years for the clean-up of federal contaminated sites, including northern abandoned mines and $500 million this year for the clean-up of “other” sites – those of mixed jurisdiction like Sydney Tar Ponds.
This money is a quadruple winner for the government.
Since the spring of 2003, the estimated costs of remediating properties owned by the federal government has been shown on the Public Accounts as a liability, part of the national debt. Cleaning them up will pay down the debt.
The federal government is facing lawsuits from communities with large toxic sites: villages like Shannon, Québec which has discovered that their water supply is contaminated with TCE (trichloroethylene) from a closed munitions factory at nearby Val Cartier military base. We are aware of First Nations that are also investigating lawsuits over abandoned mines. If no resources are allocated to fix these problems, the awards from a successful negligence suit will be much higher.
The Auditor-General has promised to re-visit the issues of northern abandoned mines and contaminated sites in the next year, to see what progress has been made since her last report in December 2003.
There will be few nay-sayers to this move. Communities with toxic sites leaching away their health will be delighted; polluting industries like mining will be relieved that the federal government is willing to pick up the tab; environmental industries will see opportunities for work; most of us which just be glad that someone is finally going to take care of it. In a poll undertaken by the Green Budget Coalition in 2002, respondents stated that they would rather see toxic sites cleaned-up than have a tax cut.
MiningWatch Canada and the Green Budget Coalition have been advocating for a Clean Canada Fund for the past four years. We have always said that the fund should be replenished by a toxic substances tax, monies from polluters who can be identified and the sale or lease of properties that have been remediated. It should be accompanied with tough reclamation bonding on existing and new properties and strict monitoring and enforcement of environmental protection measures.