TORONTO—At the recent annual premiers’ conference, the Canadian Energy Strategy was resuscitated when Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne joined their counterparts in stating that they want to re-direct the energy strategy toward one that reflects a commitment to addressing climate change.
This is a critical shift. The draft strategy had been lingering in a near-death state. Having emerged from the oil industry and been pushed hard by former Alberta premier Alison Redford, that strategy focused largely on facilitating the construction of tar sands pipelines. The other premiers rightly saw little value in it for their provinces and signalled a “go very slow” to their staff.
Thankfully, Ontario and Quebec seem intent on fixing and rescuing the strategy. This is good because Canada needs a comprehensive approach. A project-byproject view of energy planning is failing our economy and our climate. We can and must do better.
So how would a Canadian Energy Strategy look if it addressed climate change? Here are some suggestions, based on the Environmental Defence’s work on the clean economy:
Define a pan-Canadian approach to energy: The tar sands of Alberta, oil fields of Newfoundland and Labrador, and gas wells of British Columbia generate revenue and jobs but so do hydro power in Quebec, British Columbia and almost every province, as well as growing roles for nonhydro renewables in Ontario. Why would we not think about how to maximize the value of non-fossil fuel energy sources when they make up so much of our domestic and exportable power supply?
Invest in clean energy: In a North American market where transportation and manufacturing could quickly move to electric power, creating a low-carbon grid will take on increasing importance. Canada could be well poised to lead this—if we make smart choices now. Investing in interprovincial and international grid ties as well as creating more power for export through renewables, appropriate hydro, energy conservation and smart-grid technology will free up more for sale to those who need it. This would create jobs and generate needed revenue for both federal and provincial governments.
Put a price on carbon pollution: Everyone, from the International Monetary Fund to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says the world needs to put a price on the production of the carbon pollution that causes global warming. The most efficient and effective way to do this would be in the form of a tax, but caps on production with the ability to trade “credits” among industries could also be used. Increasing the cost of fossil fuels encourages conservation and fuel switching. It also generates revenue.
Invest in an economic transition: Analysts tell us that two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground if civilization is going to survive. It’s clear we need to transition away from their use over time. A carbon tax can be invested in a sovereign wealth fund (like Norway’s), personal income tax reductions (creates more spending power), new industry (creates jobs), and, or transportation infrastructure (attracts new industry and increases competitiveness).
All of these investments can move our economy to become a generator of wealth in the long term, while reducing the extraction of fossil fuels over time.
Time will tell whether a new energy vision is possible among our premiers but it is clear Canada has a wealth of opportunities and resources that are the envy of others around the world. Let’s hope the premiers can turn commitments into action and set a new course, which will benefit both our shared climate and economy.
Tim Gray is executive director of Environmental Defence based in Toronto.
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