Opinion

British Columbians of all political stripes want a cleaner economy. Parties are missing an opportunity

When the federal government delivered its Throne Speech in late September, no words were minced: climate action would be a “cornerstone” of this government’s recovery. And it wasn’t just about climate change. It was also about ensuring Canada’s economy would be clean and competitive.

But with a B.C. election now a mere week away, climate action has made few headlines out west. It’s no surprise, given provincial parties have wielded the issue infrequently or, in the case of the B.C. Liberals, hardly at all.

This relative campaign silence is frankly surprising. Like most of the West Coast, B.C. is the province that has really felt the impacts of climate change in recent weeks, with smoke swallowing skylines and pooling into valleys.

It’s similarly surprising because public opinion points to climate action as a political winner. According to a June poll, four in five British Columbians believe the economic changes brought about by COVID-19 provide an opportunity to do more now to fight climate change. That includes 84 per cent of B.C. NDP voters, 77 per cent of B.C. Liberal supporters, and 95 per cent of Greens. When it comes to climate action and investing in clean energy, British Columbians of all stripes find common ground.

A key reason for this cross-party support is that climate action—and in particular, investing in clean energy and technology—is no longer seen as simply a moral imperative. In 2020, it’s increasingly understood to make good economic sense.

When given a list of 10 areas the province should invest in, two-thirds of British Columbians give “clean energy and technology” top marks, according to the poll above, higher even than tourism and tech. “Oil, gas and LNG” is chosen as important by just one-third of respondents.

Which brings us to yet another reason why this election season silence is surprising: British Columbians are right. The clean energy opportunity isn’t just perceived. It’s very real and already being realized.

The last global recession taught us many lessons, one of which was that those countries, states and provinces that aligned economic stimulus with what the future economy would look like fared better than those that doubled down on the status quo.

Eleven years later, history is repeating itself as governments contemplate similar choices, navigating through the damage COVID-19 has done to their economies. B.C. is no exception and faces a generational juncture: invest in “business as usual” or recognize that investing in a clean recovery positions B.C. to create lasting jobs and economic resilience.

This is happening now. Tesla is in discussions to purchase low-carbon nickel from B.C.’s Turnagain mine, while Apple is committed to a 100 per cent-carbon-neutral supply chain by 2030 that will include aluminium produced in B.C.

Our homegrown companies are benefiting too. Richmond-based Corvus Energy is supplying electric ferries with batteries and charging technology, while Burnaby’s Ballard Power now employs more than 700 people as a global leader in zero-emission fuel cells. Though Ballard has a long history in this province, a growing global appetite for hydrogen technology is helping the company write a new story.

In short, a clean economic recovery isn’t about green megaprojects, eliminating industries or forcing us to change how we live and work. It’s about maintaining B.C.’s competitive advantage and building on it.

The province’s economic recovery plan unveiled in September included support for electrifying commercial and industrial transport as well as clean technology. The next budget—under the next government—will provide an opportunity to accelerate CleanBC, the province’s roadmap toward a sustainable economy.

In the meantime, British Columbians need to hear—not just in a document but on the campaign trail—how each party plans to make our province cleaner and more competitive. All have shown a capacity to lead on climate (it was the B.C. Liberals that introduced North America’s first price on pollution), but while climate makes some prominent appearances in the NDP and Green platforms, the Liberal plan fails to meaningfully connect climate to its central planks—or B.C.’s recovery for that matter. It’s too bad.

For any party vying for power, embracing the energy transition isn’t just an economic opportunity. It’s a political one.

This post was coauthored by Trevor Melanson and originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.