More than 100 MPs and senators have signed a letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau asking for a historic expansion of Canada's protected land and marine areas to be financed with an investment of $1.4-billion over three years that would be included in the next federal budget.
The letter drafted by Quebec Liberal MP William Amos, a former environmental lawyer, says the money is needed for development of national parks and for protected areas being created by Indigenous groups, provinces, territories, municipalities and private interests. The pledge would ensure that Canada meets its commitment under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect at least 17 per cent of its land by 2020. According to recent reports, just more than 10 per cent of Canada's land is currently protected.
"I am absolutely convinced that the federal government has underinvested for the better part of the last 15 years," said Mr. Amos, who stressed that the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, is a non-partisan effort to increase spending in wilderness preservation.
"This isn't just about the conservation of our most special land and waters," he said, "it's about enabling what we have promised to do internationally while recognizing that there are major economic conservation opportunities, notably in the form of tourism for rural regions."
Mr. Morneau's office said on Monday that it is still engaged in prebudget consultations and will not speculate what might be under consideration.
The letter's 115 signatories include Liberal MPs and senators, New Democrat MPs and a Conservative senator. It asks for an initial investment of $1.4-billion over the next three years and then $470-million annually to pay for the enhancement of protected areas.
That is the same amount requested in a recent report by the Green Budget Coalition, a group of 19 of Canada's top environmental organizations including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Ducks Unlimited, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice Canada, which is Mr. Amos's former employer.
The letter points to a poll of 2,001 Canadians conducted in November by the Earnscliffe Strategy Group for the Schad Foundation and the Boreal Songbird Initiative in which 87 per cent of respondents said Canada should meet the 2020 target for land protection. Four out of five of those surveyed agreed they would support increased funding for that initiative.
"It's easy to focus on $1.4-billion and say 'Wow, that sounds like a lot of money,'" Mr. Amos said. But, he said, studies suggests that, for every dollar invested in conservation, there is a $6 economic return. "This is a classic example of the environment and the economy going hand in hand."
Deborah Schulte, the Liberal MP who is also chair of the Commons standing committee on environment and sustainable development, helped Mr. Amos gather names of signatories for the letter, as did others including Wayne Stetski, the NDP MP for Kootenay-Columbia in British Columbia who is his party's critic for national parks.
Mr. Steski pointed out that the committee chaired by Ms. Schulte, of which he and Mr. Amos were members, released a unanimous report in March, 2017, calling for more investment in conservation to meet Canada's international commitments.
Éric Hébert-Daly, the national executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said $1.4-billion over three years would be a massive generational investment in environmental protection.