August 4, 2021
Catherine McKenna
Catherine McKenna

The shift from grey to green

Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities on the new National Infrastructure Fund and the important role of horticulture and landscape professionals.

Landscape Trades recently connected with Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, to learn more about the recently announced Natural Infrastructure Fund.

Landscape Trades: You are well-known for your commitment to making Canada’s natural environment cleaner. Where does your commitment stem from and what are some of your proudest achievements, in this regard?

Catherine McKenna: My commitment to making Canada’s natural environment cleaner stems from many things, including my kids and my love for nature. Young people have never known a world without climate change, and they have been asking us to take immediate action because they will be the ones who will have to live with the consequences of climate change the longest. In fact, we have been feeling the impacts of climate change through many natural disasters already, including floods, fires, heat waves, droughts and so much more. I know that to secure a better future for our kids, we have to tackle climate change.

On top of that, I have grown up surrounded by nature — from canoeing in Algonquin Park to spending time in many other parks, including Gwaii Haanas National Park, Torngat Mountains National Park and Rouge National Urban Park.

Nature can help reduce emissions and also build resilience. For example, wetlands can be a more effective barrier to flooding than building a concrete barrier, and they have many other benefits on top of that. In fact, natural infrastructure doesn’t only offer a positive impact on our physical and mental well-being, it also plays a major role in increasing resilience to climate change. One of my proudest achievements is negotiating Canada’s first real climate plan with a price on pollution across the country. Pricing pollution is one of the most effective and affordable ways to reduce emissions.

What are some of the key environmental initiatives announced in the 2021 Federal Budget?

Climate change’s impacts, like flooding, coastal erosion, permafrost thaw and more, put Canada’s infrastructure at significant risk. This poses a threat to Canadians’ health, wealth and safety. Climate related disasters can result in billions of dollars in disruptions, damages and recovery costs. To ensure Canada’s resilience in the face of climate change, Budget 2021 proposes to top up the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to support projects such as wildfire mitigation activities, rehabilitation of stormwater systems and restoration of wetlands and shorelines. Through this fund top up, we are also supporting projects that help small, rural, remote, northern and Indigenous communities adapt to climate change impacts.

In addition, we are proposing to renew the Standards to Support Resilience in Infrastructure Program, so that the Standards Council of Canada can continue updating standards and guidance in priority areas, such as flood mapping and building in the north. This would help communities to plan and build roads, buildings and other infrastructure that is more durable and resilient to a changing climate.

Finally, we are proposing to establish a Natural Infrastructure Fund to support natural and hybrid infrastructure projects. Through investments in local parks, green spaces and waterfronts, we are helping improve the well-being of our communities, mitigate the impacts of climate change and prevent costly natural events.

On top of these initiatives, we’ve implemented a climate lens as part of our Investing in Infrastructure Program, encouraging builders to see and take every opportunity to combat climate change. Recently, we have also announced to support communities with reliable and accessible public transit that is faster, cheaper and cleaner — helping our efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This includes an Active Transportation Fund that will support solutions that will encourage people to be active and healthy, while improving the mobility and quality of life within our cities.

How do you see Canada’s nursery and landscape industry participating in the Natural Infrastructure Fund?

Natural infrastructure is increasingly recognized for its ability to contribute to many of the services traditionally provided by grey infrastructure, such as the management and filtration of stormwater and mitigating against costly flood events. But natural infrastructure can also offer a wide array of co-benefits, such as increasing resilience to other climate change impacts, including erosion and extreme heat, enhancing biodiversity and habitat, fighting climate change through carbon sequestration and providing recreational space for mental and physical health. We need to be collectively more aware and really value these assets.

The Natural Infrastructure Fund is a new and innovative program that aims to increase the awareness of the benefits of natural infrastructure and encourage natural infrastructure to be considered, where appropriate, alongside traditional infrastructure for the delivery of community services.

Every sector of society has a role to play in leveraging and maximizing the benefits of natural infrastructure. As leaders in the field, Canada’s nursery and landscape industry can play a key role in supporting natural infrastructure solutions across the country and providing expertise on smart and sustainable natural infrastructure implementation which, in turn, can make our communities greener.

How do you see Canada’s nursery and landscape industry participating in the other environmental initiatives you have responsibility for?

While the Natural Infrastructure Fund is a new initiative focusing on natural and hybrid infrastructure, Infrastructure Canada has been making investments in natural infrastructure through other infrastructure programs for some time. For instance, the department has funded urban forests, shoreline restoration and other natural infrastructure projects through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund.

Natural infrastructure also features in our efforts to integrate climate resilience into guidelines, standards and codes that govern infrastructure decisions. The Climate Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure Initiative funded by Infrastructure Canada and run by the National Research Council is developing guidance to support the uptake of natural infrastructure and understand its additional benefits. Most recently, this initiative published two new Canadian Standards Association standards on nature-based solutions for the design and construction of bioretention systems that manage urban stormwater runoff. These new standards aim to help manage the risk of community flooding and surface water degradation from changes in rainfall patterns and extreme rainfall due to climate change.

With expertise in ecology and forestry, the industry can continue to contribute to INFC’s broader initiatives by sharing smart and sustainable practices and building strong and durable relationships with all levels of government, non-profit organizations and Indigenous communities, among others.