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Visitors walk on the boardwalk on the Greenwich peninsula in Prince Edward Island on Aug. 29, 2017.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal government is establishing a $1-billion fund to secure private land across Canada to preserve nature and protect at-risk species.

In his third budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau allocated $1.3-billion over five years for conservation, including $500-million for the Nature Fund that Ottawa hopes will also attract matching funding from provinces, corporations and not-for-profit organizations.

At the same time, the government provided additional funding for the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada to protect coasts, including a pledge to inspect every foreign oil tanker that enters Canadian waters on its maiden visit and then on a yearly basis.

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"This budget recognizes something that every Canadian understands: that our quality of life – and our present and future prosperity – is deeply connected to the environment in which we live," Mr. Morneau told the House of Commons.

The Liberal government has pledged to conserve at least 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020, and expand marine protected areas around its three coasts.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a backlash in British Columbia over his government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which will result in a dramatic increase in oil tankers in Vancouver Harbour.

When it announced the Trans Mountain decision in November, 2016, Ottawa also unveiled a $1.5-billion "Ocean Protection Plan" to improve marine safety and protect the environment.

The budget earmarked $10-million to Transport Canada to enhance the inspection regime for foreign-registered oil tankers, and $29-million for the Coast Guard to maintain and improve its fleet.

With the money for the Nature Fund, the government responded to a request from parliamentarians and a coalition of 19 environmental organizations to greatly expand Canada's protected land and marine areas.

However, a letter signed by more than 100 MPs and senators sent to Mr. Morneau in January had asked for an investment of $1.4-billion over three years, and an additional $940-million in years four and five.

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"Today's significant federal investment in protecting our land and marine ecosystems could be a game-changer for nature conservation in Canada," said Alison Woodley, national conservation director for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Canada committed under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect at least 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020, with roughly 10 per cent currently preserved.

However, 90 per cent of Canadian land is owned by provinces, territories or Indigenous groups, and the Finance Canada budget document said Tuesday that Ottawa will have to work with other governments to achieve the UN goals.

Under the Species at Risk Act, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna must make a determination this spring whether provincial recovery plans are sufficient to protect threatened boreal caribou herds, and take action if they fall short.

The $1.3-billion conservation funding announced Tuesday includes programs to increase federal capacity to protect species at risk and expand national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries.

The federal funding shows "good intention to protect new habitats and help species in decline recover," but questions remain regarding implementation, said Megan Leslie, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada.

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"While there are still many details missing from the budget, we look forward to working with the government over the coming months to ensure strong protections and effective wildlife recovery initiatives for the future," she said in a release.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is not sharing any specific details about this month’s federal budget, but he says a priority will be creating 'real and fair' opportunities for Canadians. The Canadian Press
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