We need an energy strategy that works for all Canadians

cross posted from Huffington Post Canada

Although this may sound odd to those of you who have been following this issue, we welcome Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s push for a Canadian energy strategy. Which is why we, along with a number of other labour unions and environmental organizations, took out this ad in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

Canada’s premiers are meeting this week at the Council of the Federation and a Canadian energy strategy will be on the agenda. It’s about time we have this conversation.

Energy is crucially important to our environment and our economy. And we need a strategy to ensure that we manage it responsibly.

Where we may differ from Premier Redford, of course, is on the specifics of such a strategy. But even here, that really depends on the day of the week.

On the one hand, Redford has said a lot of the right things about an energy strategy. She recognizes climate change and the need to address it. She says she is concerned about other environmental impacts to land, air and water that result from oilsands development. And Premier Redford has said that energy efficiency and renewable energy need to be part of any Canadian energy strategy.

But, on the other hand, she recently implied that the strategy she favours is really about getting more oil to market, and the other provinces should facilitate this by welcoming more pipelines while asking for nothing in return. Instead, they should be content with Ottawa receiving more tax revenue which is, in turn, meted out to the provinces via equalization payments and the likes.

Given these contrary statements, it’s difficult to know exactly what the energy strategy she is proposing would consist of. But it is time we had this discussion.

It’s clear to us that a Canadian energy strategy cannot be based on the oil industry alone. A strategy based solely on the oil industry would yield too few jobs and too many emissions.

Yes, too few jobs. Although pundits and politicians have been arguing that we have to make a choice between the environment and the economy, between creating jobs and curbing climate change, this is simply not the case.

A sensible energy strategy would hasten our transition away from fossil fuels and drive us towards renewable energy and increased energy efficiency while creating green jobs along the way. A sensible strategy would be one that works for all Canadians, both present and future.

And if we wanted to see what such a strategy might look like, we can look to Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, the country who recently met nearly 50 per cent of their energy demand from solar power, and who now employs over 380,000 people in the renewable energy sector. Or we might tqake a page from Denmark, another leader in this field. We could even look to China, who were second only to the U.S. on spending on renewable energy last year and whose most recent 5 year plan had a distinctly green hue.

But, in truth, we don’t even need to look to outside our borders because many of the provinces are already heading in the right direction.

Ontario is stimulating its manufacturing sector by embracing renewable energy, which is also allowing the province to phase out coal fired generation. Nova Scotia is following a similar path. Quebec is taking on transportation, and creating jobs along the way. And Manitoba is showing us how provinces can drive greater energy efficiency at no cost to taxpayers. 

To be clear, we know we’re going to use oil for some time to come. And we understand oil’s importance to our economy. Indeed, CEP, a union that represents thousands of oilsands workers, is a member of Blue Green Canada. And the Alberta Federation of Labour has also joined us on the ad.

As these organizations understand, we need to plan for the transition that lies ahead, not only to protect our environment but also in the interests of our economy.  As a report commissioned by the Alberta Government concluded, we need to plan for a time when the appetite for high-cost, high-emissions oil has dried up. Otherwise, in the authors’ words, “we may have heavy oil to sell, but few or no profitable markets wishing to buy.”

The world’s energy systems are undergoing an unparalleled transformation, and it is imperative that we be strategic about how we produce and use energy.

Our choice is not whether to act, but when to act. And sooner would be better. The costs of inaction rise with every passing day, while at the same time, the opportunity to show leadership is closing.

The world is changing. Canadians are ready. We need a strategy to accelerate that change, not delay it.