• Banff National Park

    Among the significant investments in Canada's natural environment made in the latest federal budget is a pledge to keep access to national parks free for kids 17 and under. (Photo: Nunzio Guerrera/Can Geo Photo Club)

The current federal government came to power in large part on a promise to take action on climate change and restore Canada's image as a leader in environmental science and clean technology, so it's no surprise that the latest federal budget, released on Tuesday, commits significant funding to various research and conservation initiatives. "The extraordinary beauty of Canada’s nature, parks, and wild spaces – these are central to our identity as Canadians," Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in his budget speech. "This budget recognizes something that every Canadian understands: that our quality of life, and our present and our future prosperity, is deeply connected to the environment in which we live." Here's a look at some of the highlights.

New funding for scientific research

In what it calls a "historic investment" in Canada's scientific research apparatus, Budget 2018 commits $925 million over five years for the three granting councils — the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). It also proposes $275 million over five years for the creation of a new tri-council fund to "support research that is international ... fast-breaking and higher-risk." In return, the councils will be expected to collaborate on more interdisciplinary research and develop strategies to achieve greater diversity among research funding recipients, including support for women, minorities and early-career scientists. 

The advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, which supports open science and evidence-based policymaking, praised the investments as a sign that the current government has been listening to the concerns of the research community. 

$1 billion Nature Fund

Canada has pledged to protect 10 per cent of its oceans and 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020. To that end, the budget proposes the creation of a $1 billion Nature Fund to expand national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries, manage existing protected areas including national parks, and develop and implement recovery plans for endangered species as mandated by the Species At Risk Act (SARA). The federal government will contribute half of the proposed fund, with the rest coming from corporate, not‑for-profit, provincial, territorial and other partners. 

Funding for endangered whales

Increased shipping and fishing activity, pollution, and dwindling prey stocks in Canadian waters have put iconic whale species at risk. The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale has grabbed headlines since suffering a deadly summer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last year, but the belugas of the St. Lawrence estuary and the west coast's southern resident killer whales are also in trouble. Budget 2018 earmarks $167 million over five years to study the whales and address threats arising from human activities. 

Free national parks for kids

Canadians went wild with excitement when it was announced that access to national parks would be free for all in 2017 in celebration of Canada 150. Now, kids 17 and under will continue to be granted free admission to the parks in perpetuity (though regular fees will apply for campsites and other amenities). 

Forging ahead with the carbon tax

It's not a matter of if, but how. The budget puts pressure on the provinces to decide by March 30 whether they will implement their own system for carbon pollution pricing, or abide by the federal system, which will roll out on Jan. 1, 2019. Currently, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick all have some form of carbon pollution pricing scheme on the books, though the federal government will conduct a review of the systems to ensure they meet its standards. The budget sets aside $109 million over five years for the implementation and enforcement of the federal carbon pricing system.