By KEN NEUMANN and RICK SMITH
What if everything we have been told about the energy debate is wrong? It’s not East-versus-West, or jobs-versus-environment and the Alberta premier doesn’t have horns growing from her head.
Indeed, Alison Redford has said some very sensible things. Many of her ideas could form the basis of a job-creating, emissions-cutting energy plan. And some other premiers are already trying just that.
It’s for these reasons that this week’s meeting of the premiers at the Council of the Federation shouldn’t go to waste.
It’s also why we joined other unions and environmental organizations in Blue Green Canada — to try to reframe silly debates that pretend we have to choose between jobs and the environment. The oil industry perpetuates these myths, in part by labelling disagreement with its plans as anti-West.
This is untrue. Questioning oilsands expansion and oil pipelines is not Westphobic. Is it true that all Westerners want more spill-prone pipelines running over their land and welcome spill-prone supertankers on Western coasts? Of course not.
British Columbia is Western. More than 130 First Nations there oppose Enbridge’s pipeline; communities along its route don’t want it, either. Businesses and workers who depend on a spill-free coast are opposed too, in part because 45,000 existing jobs are at risk. Many in Alberta are also worried about the impact that even more oilsands growth will have on their water and air, and thousands have recently called on Premier Redford to do a better job of protecting them from oil spills.
Manitoba, too, is in the West. And this clean-power giant would welcome sending more hydro elsewhere to reduce coal use. So despite the oil industry’s best spin, it’s hard to see how this is an East-West debate.
Nor is it a matter of renewable energy proponents wanting to turn off the oil tap tomorrow. Fossil fuels will be part of the energy mix for some time to come. The question is whether we want to have a faster transition away from them or cement our dependence on them, global warming notwithstanding.
So we welcome Ms. Redford saying that a true national chat about energy needs to include energy efficiency, renewable energy and a reduction in climate-changing emissions. It’s about time.
Companies like Enbridge — which the U.S. government said behaved like “Keystone cops” in a devastating pipeline spill in Michigan — crow about the job benefits of building new fossil fuel infrastructure. But clean energy infrastructure and energy conservation create jobs, too. In fact, per dollar invested, clean energy and energy efficiency create about three times more jobs than fossil fuels.
In Nova Scotia, imported coal currently provides 80 per cent of energy needs, but it is on track to have 40 per cent of its energy come from renewable sources. Ontario has created manufacturing jobs building renewable energy. Quebec is cutting pollution by building better public transit. But much more needs to be done.
A good place to start would be to create more jobs and put money directly into families’ and businesses’ pockets by embracing energy efficiency.
This month, an international report ranked Canada as second-worst in the world on energy efficiency. Doing better on this front would lower energy bills for families and businesses and it would also save provinces money because the cheapest source of new energy is using less of it. A recent study found that investment in energy efficiency in four Eastern provinces alone could create more than 22,000 jobs each year and add $84 billion in GDP over time.
While federal efficiency measures have sadly been cut, some provinces — notably Manitoba and Nova Scotia — have highly successful programs that cost taxpayers nothing. This and exciting advances in renewable energy are better choices if we’re serious about cutting emissions.
Just this year, Germany met nearly half its national energy needs on one day through solar power. Asian superpowers like China, South Korea and Japan are investing heavily in renewables, just as they pioneered low- or no-fuel cars. Is it a good strategy for Canada to fall further behind this obvious trend when there’s still time to catch up?
A main barrier to this progress is perception. So let’s look at things a bit differently, and welcome Premier Redford’s support for efficiency, renewables and lower emissions. And get there together, East, West and North, before it’s too late.

Ken Neumann is the Canadian national director of the United Steelworkers Union. Rick Smith is the executive-director of Environmental Defence.

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