Liberal pledge to plant 2 billion trees could cost $ 2.8 billion more than expected, watchdog says
The Parliamentary Budget Office says a pledge by Trudeau’s Liberals to plant two billion trees could cost almost double what the government says.
The decade-long tree-planting frenzy is expected to begin in the spring and cost $ 3.16 billion over that period, according to federal estimates.
Reaching the 2030 target means planting around 200 million trees per year more than the usual 600 million.
The spending watchdog’s analysis suggests that getting there will also require more money, about $ 2.78 billion more, which will bring the overall cost to $ 5.94 billion.
Green economic recovery
The Budget Officer’s report is based on a similar program run by the Ontario government, using the average cost per tree and accounting for inflation over the 10-year planting period.
The tree-planting pledge made in the 2019 federal election was part of a decade-long, $ 3 billion effort to manage, conserve and restore the country’s forests, grasslands and wetlands.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking at an online event hosted by the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, linked the effort to the government’s promises of green economic recovery and job creation.
“Planting these trees also means jobs. And I have to say, that excites Canadians as well. It gives people a personal and practical investment in what it means to build a green future, ”she said.
The program was expected to take root this fiscal year, which ends at the end of March, but the government had not budgeted any money for the effort and also blamed delays on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PBO report contains a caveat that estimates may not accurately reflect federal program costs.
Conservative environmental critic Dan Albas has suggested the figure for the government might actually be higher because the Liberals want to plant trees in urban centers, while the PBO report costs what is essentially a large-scale rural plantation. .
The office of budget director Yves Giroux estimated the planting of about 1,500 trees per hectare, which is roughly the size of a soccer field.
“Obviously, this was more of a public relations and communications exercise than a substantive policy to help us meet our environmental goals,” said Albas.
“Either they have to reduce their pledge and deliver only a much smaller amount of trees, or, second, they will have to double or more their budget for this program.”
The loan program will also cost more: PBO
The budget office also estimates in a separate report that a pandemic loan program for small businesses will cost the government nearly $ 20.3 billion, more than the $ 14.6 billion estimated in the budget. fall economic statement.
The Canada Emergency Account for Businesses now offers up to $ 60,000 in interest-free loans to eligible small businesses. Part of the loan is repayable if it is repaid by December 31, 2022.
The latest federal data for the program shows nearly $ 32.7 billion in funding had been approved as of Jan.21.
The budget director also released a third report on Thursday examining the government’s projections for the taxation of international digital platforms and estimates that the government could end up getting a little more than expected from the measure over the next five years.
The November fall economic statement estimated that the digital tax would generate $ 3.4 billion in new revenue through March 2026.
The PBO report estimated that the measure could bring in nearly $ 4 billion during this period, but warned that this figure does not take into account the additional costs the government will face in implementing the measure.
The report also warned that the estimated tax base is subject to a high degree of uncertainty. The PBO also noted that businesses are likely to adjust their services and prices in response to any new tax.