A federal cut has left the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network (NLEN) with an uncertain future.
Its core funding is gone as a result of Environment Canada’s chop to money provided annually to the organization’s parent body.
The $18,000 the NLEN has lost might not seem like a lot, but executive director Chris Hogan calls it “a blow to our group.”
“That does allow us to operate a kind of bare bones operation here, a part-time office, and to do the work that we do,” he says. “With that money no longer available to us, we’re going to be scrambling to find alternate sources, and that’s not easy.”
Environment Canada cut the $547,000 it gives the Canadian Environment Network. That prompted layoffs at its national headquarters and cuts to regional offices like the one here. The national network is an umbrella organization for more than 640 environmental groups.
The St. John’s-based provincial body works with 35 of those groups in Newfoundland and Labrador. The NLEN acts as a communications link between its members, the public and media and tries to raise public awareness of environmental issues.
Hogan, whose position is part-time, said the network has enough money to hold out until the end of the fiscal year, but what happens after that is unknown.
He explained some groups across the country have already emptied their savings and will likely shut their doors in the coming days and weeks.
“We have all been continuing to operate on the understanding of a letter received from Environment Canada in June of this year, which said they were committed to renewing the funding agreement. So this is a reversal of that decision.”
Hogan said the NLEN’s steering committee will determine a plan of attack.
Discussions with the provincial government will be part of that.
Provincial Environment Minister Ross Wiseman said Friday he is open to talking with the organization in wake of the funding cut.
“I look forward to sitting down with Chris and his organization and picking up the discussion we had recently. I’m prepared to do that when I get back into the department next week,” he said from his Trinity North district.
Wiseman said he is worried about the funding cut, especially because it will trickle down to organizations under the network’s umbrella.
As a minister, he said he understands the budgetary challenges governments face, but he also said that they have to exercise caution.
“It needs to be careful it doesn’t undermine the long-term sustainability of good, solid organizations,” Wiseman said, “and that’s what cuts like this do in that, on the surface, they may in fact give you an immediate savings, but over the long haul, they will end up having a much more detrimental effect … than any benefit gained by a short-term budget saving.”
The minister said he will contact Environment Canada to get a better understanding of why the decision was made.
A spokeswoman for the federal department told The Telegram the cut was part of a rigorous process to manage spending.
“Responsible spending and sound management of tax dollars are important at all times,” she wrote in an email. “During difficult economic times, Canadians expect the government to be even more vigilant.”
The official said her department is moving towards “a more direct use of web-based consultation.”
“The department already has a number of web pages dedicated to public participation and consultation. The intent is to expand on these to not only provide comments on discussion papers, but to invite stakeholders to submit ideas or policy solutions on the government’s environmental priorities.”