Canadian politicians often insist on the expediency and necessity of aligning our policies with those in the US. But when it comes to COVID-19 responses, much of what is happening in the States is terrifying, not least the Trump administration’s recovery plans which so far have included sweeping rollbacks of environmental regulations and funding to prop-up fossil fuel producers. And yet, despite the clear risk to our health and economic future, it looks like Canada is again prepared to follow suit.
Elsewhere in the world, governments are preparing for massive investment in clean technology and public infrastructure that will both jumpstart their economies and stave off the pending climate crisis. The EU, Germany, Spain and South Korea – to name just a few countries – have all put forth ambitious climate plans for recovery, with the EU setting aside around 500 billion euros for programs including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and zero emission transportation.
Meanwhile in Canada, according to EnergyPolicyTracker, governments have provided at least $16 billion to the fossil fuel industry to date as part of their COVID relief measures. This is 53 times the support provided to the clean energy sector or $425 for each taxpayer provided to fossil energy vs $8 to clean. And unfortunately, Alberta and Ontario have also strongly aligned with US administration actions, including massive environmental rollbacks and a mutli-billion dollar bet on the Keystone XL pipeline.
So is Canada quietly betting on a Trump administration re-election and tracking its policy preferences in our COVID rebuild strategies? And what are the consequences if we are wrong?
Things could change a lot. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden recently unveiled his US$2 trillion plan for post-COVID. It looks nothing like Trump’s and nothing like North America has ever seen before. There’s a lot of worthy ideas in this ambitious plan, but some highlights include:
- Create a carbon pollution-free electricity grid by 2035 through investment in the creation of a smart grid, tax reforms that favour clean energy and a push for electrification.
- Large investments in energy efficiency in buildings, including completing 4 million retrofits and building 1.5 million new affordable homes.
- Investment in clean energy innovation including an additional $400 billion in clean energy procurement by the US government and a new accelerator agency targeting government investment in energy generating and saving technologies.
- Secure environmental justice and equitable economic opportunity reforms by setting targets for employment in disadvantaged communities, seeking expansion of unionized work forces and prioritizing environmental justice reforms.
- Implement a climate test to ensure that all major domestic and international infrastructure projects consider climate change and cumulative impacts, including a full life cycle assessment.
- End subsidies for fossil fuels, including ending all export finance subsidies and demand a worldwide ban on subsidies.
A similar level of federal investment in Canada would be in the order of C$270 billion. If we’re caught flat-footed by a Biden victory, we may watch as entire sectors of our growing clean energy and cleantech sectors pack up and move to greener pastures in the US. Or they may just wither as they fail to secure the government support needed to commercialize innovations. This would be a nightmare for southern Ontario and BC in particular, where the clean tech industry has been thriving. Alberta has also identified this sector as an area of future growth.
Across Canada the clean energy sector already employs more people than the fossil fuel industry, and recent findings show that investments in clean stimulus create nearly three times as many jobs for every $10 million invested by governments. A sharp change in priorities by the US will also accelerate global policy and investment in support of cleantech, speeding up the global move away from fossils and further marginalizing our high-cost producers..
Increasingly, Canadians are wondering if our federal government has figured out where they want to take our country and our economy – even though the smart money and smart leaders are undertaking a rapid pivot to clean energy and technology with a parallel focus on economic and social justice. Time is running out for Canadian leaders to make a choice and we hope they are not betting on Trump.