Québec is Making a SWITCH

Equiterre’s Steven Guilbeault (left) with Denis Leclerc, President and CEO of Écotech Québec. Photo: Le Devoir.

With abundant hydro-electricity, a thriving clean-tech cluster, a province-wide EV charging network, and a green-leaning electorate, Québec is steadily—if quietly—laying the groundwork of a low-carbon society.

What’s missing is leadership—and broad consensus on how to create a competitive, equitable, and less carbon-intensive economy.

Enter SWITCH—a new alliance of civil society organizations, industry associations, and private companies that recently joined forces to accelerate the province’s economic transition.

“An economy with fewer carbon emissions and fewer impacts on the environment, one that strengthens our businesses by making them more productive and more competitive—and  that increases quality of life and social equity —this is our vision of a green economy for Québec,” said Steven Guilbeault, co-founder and senior director for Equiterre, one of the province’s most influent environmental organizations.

The project began about a year ago when Karel Mayrand—the director géneral of the Quebec office of the David Suzuki Foundation—convened a group of NGOs, companies, and industry associations to discuss a green vision for the province’s future.

And not a moment too soon. According to The Economy We Want: Positioning Quebéc For a World in Transition, SWITCH’s founding discussion paper [French only], Québec is facing the triple threats of a global economic crisis, a depressed manufacturing sector, and unprecedented environmental challenges.

“We must lay the foundation for a productive, innovative and resilient economy, to ensure prosperity for all Quebecers today without compromising future generations,” notes the document. “It is our collective challenge.”

Beyond Guilbeault and Mayrand, SWITCH members include the CEOs of the Aluminium Association of Canada, Écotech (Québec’s Cleantech Cluster), venture capitalist Cycle Capital Management and the Québec Engineers Network.

The group receives financial support from Desjardins, Québec’s largest financial group, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) and cleantech companies Enerkem and Innergex.

Many in Québec see the province’s seemingly large endowment of natural resources as the leading source of future economic growth. But SWITCH is calling for a more inclusive vision—citing a declining resources boom, rock-bottom natural gas prices, and the far-off prospect of oil production.

A recent study by Deloitte Samson Bélair and Touche shows that the province’s economy has already developed world-class niches in energy efficiency, waste recycling, biomass and hydroelectricity, which generates more than 97 percent of Québec power.

Other promising sectors include water and soil treatment, green chemistry, and wind and solar industry components.

SWITCH is turning heads in the Québec government, which has been looking for a common thread to unify its upcoming industrial policy, energy and transportation strategies—as well as its research and innovation plan.

In the coming months, SWITCH will release the first of a string of reports on the various policy levers needed to bring its green economy vision to life. We’ll be keeping our eyes out for them.

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