This election will shape the future of Canada’s clean energy sector

Say the word energy in Canada and odds are people think you’re talking about oil and gas. The trials and tribulations of the sector – from roller-coaster commodity prices to job losses – make daily headlines.

But this narrow view of Canada’s energy sector misses a big part of the picture. It misses the bright spot in our energy story: the growth and success of clean energy. It also misses people such as Diane Praught, who uses recycled CO2 to make stronger, cleaner concrete for new homes at Halifax-based CarbonCure. Or Kate Parnala, who helps build electric buses for Winnipeg’s New Flyer. Or Charles Bureau, who creates clean fuels out of waste at Enerkem’s Edmonton facility. Yet they are three of the roughly 300,000 people already employed by companies in our clean-energy sector.

Now picture Canada in 10 years. Imagine nearly twice as many jobs like those of Diane, Kate and Charles. By 2030, Canada’s clean-energy sector is on track to employ 559,400 Canadians in jobs such as these across the country, according to a new report from Clean Energy Canada and Navius Research. This future-looking model (which follows our historical analysis of the sector released this spring) reveals an even brighter future.

For one, jobs in our clean-energy sector are set to grow more than three times faster than the Canadian average between 2020 and 2030, while jobs in our fossil-fuel sector will decline half a per cent annually over that same period (in part thanks to automation). On balance, while 50,000 jobs may be lost in oil and gas, just over 160,000 will be created in clean energy – a net increase of 110,000 new energy jobs. The sector’s GDP, meanwhile, will grow twice as fast as our economy’s current growth rate – and nine times quicker than the fossil-fuel sector is projected to grow over that decade (yes, the fossil-fuel sector still grows in terms of GDP, albeit slowly and with fewer jobs than today).

But this bigger, brighter picture is modelled on climate policies that were in place earlier this year – and presupposes that they would remain in place. As a federal election approaches, whether this is the case is a matter of question. The Conservative Party, for example, has said it will kill not only carbon pricing but also the clean fuel standard. These are the two biggest federal climate policies in Canada. (If the clean fuel standard were scrapped, 31,000 jobs in clean fuels would be lost, according to an earlier model we ran.)

Provinces also provide real-world case studies. In Ontario, 6,000 jobs and half-a-billion dollars of investment are thought to have been lost after the government cancelled renewable energy projects. And without the federal government stepping in with a price on carbon pollution and new rebates for electric cars and energy efficiency scrapped by Premier Doug Ford, Canada’s biggest province would have fallen even further behind.

Canada can still be an energy leader in the decades ahead, but that future doesn’t exist without a strong clean-energy sector − and a federal government after October’s election that will maintain and expand on the progress we’ve made.

From our electric-bus manufacturers supplying buses across North America to the Canadian technology that turns trash into fuel now found across Europe, Canada’s clean-energy industries and technologies will keep us internationally competitive.

They’ll also keep many Canadians employed. Consider the hybrid- and electric-vehicle industry. We found that it will be the fastest growing in the clean-energy sector, creating 30 times more jobs in 2030 than it will a year from now. The reason? Our modelling anticipates that electric cars will make up nearly half of new car sales in 2030.

There needs, of course, to be a fair transition for all. That means retraining programs and transition centres for fossil-fuel energy workers, akin to what exists now for coal workers as Canada phases out coal power. Others could find work helping the oil and gas sector evolve its products from fuels we burn to other uses, like supplying carbon fibre or hydrogen, or extracting lithium for electric-car batteries from oil-field waste water.

Economically speaking, this is a choice between being Netflix or Blockbuster. It’s a choice about what we, as a nation, want to encourage and invest in. It’s also a choice between climate catastrophe and a livable future.

Canadians realize that there is more to do, not less. An Abacus Data poll from August found that eight in 10 support a shift toward clean energy.

We know what we want our future to look like. But we may not get there without choosing a clean-energy future on election day.

This post was co-authored by Sarah Petrevan and originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

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