Skip to main content

Dave Braden believes his home near Freelton is one of the most energy efficient homes in Canada. Braden uses a propane opperated "on demand," hot water heater and well water.Glenn Lowson

The Conservative government - long a magnet for criticism by environmental groups - has targeted a large chuck of new spending at clean-air and climate-change initiatives including the extension of a popular program to help Canadians make their homes more energy efficient.

The environmental measures contained in the budget released Tuesday will cost taxpayers $771-million in the coming fiscal year and accounts for more than half of the new money the government says is dedicated to supporting families and communities.

Most of it will be used to extend the government's Clean Air Agenda including the ecoEnergy Retrofit-Homes program which offsets the costs of renovations to improve home heating efficiency.

The program was so popular when it was first announced in 2007 that the government had to stop taking applications from homeowners in March of last year. By that time it had paid out or allotted more than $700-million in reimbursements for construction costs.

At the urging of the New Democrats, the government has topped up the ecoEnergy initiative by $400-million in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

But later Tuesday, the three federal opposition parties announced they will all vote against Mr. Flaherty's proposed budget, making it likely that a spring election will be called and that none of the budget's provisions will be enacted.

The details of the program will be announced shortly.

The Clean Air Agenda, which was due to expire at the end of the month, also contained a number of other measures aimed at reducing smog and greenhouse gas emissions.

The budget extends the program for two more years including $252-million to address climate change and air quality, $86-million over two years for regulations focusing on energy efficiency, $48-million for clean transportation initiatives, $58-million to improve the understanding of climate change, and $25-million to support Canada's negotiations with the United States on environmental issues.

Despite it's popularity, the ecoEnergy program has garnered its share of criticism from environmentalists who say the best way to reduce energy use is to raise the price of fuel and electricity.

The New Democrats have lobbied for the program's extension saying it will help low-income Canadians deal with the cost of heating their homes.

But Andrew Leach, an environmental economist at the University of Alberta, points out that poor Canadians are unlikely to be able to afford large renovations and then wait for a year for a refund from the government.

Prof. Leach also said that evaluations of the program's ability to entice people to improve their home's efficiency have neglected to take account of the number of renovations that would have been done even if the federal money had not been available.

And, he says, better fuel efficiency may not lower energy consumption because people might just crank up the thermostat if they are paying less for heat.

In other environmental measures, the government has renewed a two-year program, costing $100-million annually, to assess and manage harmful chemicals.

There is $27-million to improve Canada's weather services.

And $5.5-million has been set aside to establish the Mealy Mountains National Park in Labrador.