The parliamentary budget office says a pledge by the Trudeau Liberals to plant two billion trees could cost almost double what the government says.
The tree-planting spree, spread over a decade, is supposed to start in the spring and cost C$3.16 billion over that time based on federal estimates, The Canadian Press reports.
Getting to the 2030 target means planting about 200 million trees a year more than the usual 600 million or so.
The spending watchdog’s analysis suggests it will also require more money, about $2.78 billion more, bringing the overall cost closer to $5.94 billion.
The budget officer’s report is based on a similar program the Ontario government ran, using the average per-tree cost and adjusting for inflation over the 10-year planting period.
The tree-planting promise made during the 2019 federal election was part of a $3-billion, decade-long effort aimed at managing, conserving, and restoring the country’s forests, grasslands, and wetlands.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking last Tuesday at an online event hosted by the World Economic Forum, linked the effort to the government’s promise for a green economic recovery and on job creation.
“Planting those trees is jobs, too. And I have to say it also gets Canadians really excited. It gives people a personal, hands-on investment in what it means to be building a green future,” she said.
The program was to take root this fiscal year, which closes at the end of March, but the government hadn’t budgeted any money for the effort and also chalked up delays to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PBO report does come with a caveat that the estimates may not accurately reflect federal program costs, having focused on a provincial program that may differ from the one the Liberals will roll out.
“Our government will plant two billion trees across Canada over 10 years, as part of our plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Ian Cameron, a spokesperson for Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan.
“We’ve committed $3.16 billion to get it done, and the first trees will be in the ground this spring.”
Conservative environment critic Dan Albas suggested the figure for the government may actually be higher than in the budget officer’s report because the Liberals want to plant trees in urban centres, while the PBO report costs out what essentially is large-scale rural planting.
Budget officer Yves Giroux’s office estimated planting about 1,500 trees per hectare, which is about the size of one soccer field.
“Clearly, this was more of a PR, communications exercise, rather than a substantive policy to help with our environmental goals,” Albas said.
“Either they have to cut their promise and only deliver a much smaller amount of trees…or, second of all, they will have to double or more their budget for this program.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 28, 2021.