Liberals promise $4 billion to clean up toxic sites,
including tar ponds

By Dennis Bueckert
Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2004

OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberal government says it will allocate $4 billion over 10 years to clean up contaminated sites, including the notorious tar ponds in Sydney, N.S.

The commitment is in a throne speech unexpectedly strong on environmental themes.

The speech Monday reaffirms the goals of the Kyoto climate protocol on climate change and promises "an equitable national plan" to achieve those goals. It promises Ottawa will tighten national guidelines on air and water, ensure safe drinking water in aboriginal communities, and increase investment in new environmental technologies.

"I'm pleased," Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club, said in an interview. "This is more specific (in environmental commitments) than any throne speech I can remember." May, who went on a hunger strike two years ago to press for a cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds, was especially glad the Nova Scotia site was mentioned. She also welcomed Ottawa's recommitment to the Kyoto target, given recent reports suggesting Martin might be wavering on that issue.

The 2003 budget provided $175 million to clean up high-risk sites, so an additional $4 billion over 10 years represents a major increase in spending in that area. Most of the funding - $3.5 billion over 10 years - will go to places under federal jurisdiction, and the balance for "certain other sites," including Sydney.

On the Kyoto protocol, the speech promised to cut greenhouse emissions "while maintaining a strong and growing economy." Each Canadian will be asked to make lifestyle changes to cut emissions by 1,000 kilograms annually. The voluntary program is referred to as the One Tonne Challenge.

In Sydney, local MP Mark Eyking said he'd been losing hope until the announcement. "This is a big step - money has been committed," he said of the tar ponds cleanup project.

Cliff Murphy, president of the Cape Breton Island Building and Construction Trades Council, said the result could be an entirely new environment that will attract industry and people to the island. "Finally, we won't have that albatross around our necks."