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Ottawa pledges to spend $15 million to restore Ontario's tree-planting program

OTTAWA — The federal government is promising to spend $15 million to save a tree-planting program in Ontario.

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government cancelled the 50 million trees program amid various other budget cuts.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says the money comes from Ottawa’s low-carbon economy fund.

The $420 million fund was announced last year as a way to bypass the province and give money directly to institutions after Ontario cancelled a cap-and-trade system and various green programs that were funded by it.

McKenna’s announcement comes less than five months from a federal election in which Ontario votes will play a key role.

Forests Ontario had said the program’s cancellation would cause job losses and stall environmental progress.

A spokeswoman for the minister of natural resources and forestry said the program had only planted 27 million trees since 2007.

“This is well short of their initial goal of 50,000,000 trees by 2020,” Justine Lewkowicz said in a statement. “We remind other levels of government that there is only one taxpayer, and that we have committed to balancing Ontario’s budget in a responsible manner.”

The program saved landowners up to 90 per cent of the costs of large-scale tree planting. 

It was started as a carbon sequestration program, but planting that many trees also helps clean the air and water, protect shorelines and reduce erosion, Forests Ontario has said.

About 40 per cent forest cover is needed to ensure forest sustainability, and the average right now in southern Ontario is 26 per cent, with some areas as low as five per cent, the CEO has said.

The program’s annual budget was about $4.7 million.

The Canadian Press

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