Kudos to Dalton McGuinty and Alison Redford for mending fences. The leaders of what are respectively Canada’s most populous and resource-rich provinces both now agree that a Canadian energy strategy is a good idea for the country.
They aren’t alone. Last week, an unprecedented and diverse alliance of more than 700 companies and organizations — collectively representing the interests of millions of Canadians — challenged premiers to work together to develop a Clean Energy Accord. Such an agreement would seek to make the nation a global renewable energy and clean-technology leader.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who is hosting Redford, McGuinty and the other first ministers at the Council of the Federation this week in Halifax, is thinking along similar lines. He said last week that he would support “working together to promote renewable energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.”
A bold new Canadian energy strategy could unlock dramatic energy efficiency improvements across the board. It could encompass the climate change plan that the auditor general of Canada recently suggested we badly need — while protecting ecosystems, creating jobs, and strengthening and diversifying the economy.
Moreover, a new Canadian energy strategy could also help transition Canada from the resource-focused economy we have today — which will always be vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles — to the stable, clean and renewable energy economy we want and will need tomorrow.
The 13 premiers have a good foundation to stand on should they choose such an approach. The last time the Council of the Federation came together on energy, five years ago, they agreed to pursue efficiency and conservation, expanded R&D for clean-energy research, and more renewable, green and cleaner energy sources. They also agreed that any energy plan should seek to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Many provinces have already shown leadership — Nova Scotia with its renewable energy targets, B.C. with its carbon tax, Quebec with its electric vehicle initiative and more. Here in Ontario, the Green Energy and Green Economy Act has already helped to reduce the province’s dependence on polluting coal while creating more than 20,000 manufacturing jobs in renewable energy and clean technology. That number is expected to grow to 50,000 by the end of this year.
Other policies could unlock further opportunities in other sectors. A recent report from the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy singled out the anticipated massive global growth in the highly efficient vehicle market. With focused policy support targeting this sector, Canadian manufacturing could once again be a high-tech industrial success story.
At the moment, our country’s economy is growing increasingly dependent on natural resources. They are abundant, today’s world needs them, and we rely on them for jobs. But the world is changing, and Canada must change with it.
It is time to think big and bold about our economy and our future, about what kind of country do we want to be, and about what security can we offer our children, and their children.
A Clean Energy Accord among provinces could help transition Canada to a global 21st century energy system. This Council of the Federation may go down in history as the meeting where the first ministers took the first steps, together, toward this better future.
Merran Smith is director of Clean Energy Canada, Ken Bondy is national co-ordinator for the Canadian Autoworkers Union and Tom Rand is senior adviser at MaRS Cleantech. This op-ed originally appeared in the Toronto Star.