Economist who helped inspire Obama strategy says Ontario policy may create 90,000 well-paid positions

Toronto Star, Tyler Hamilton

Investments expected to flow from new green-energy legislation in Ontario have the potential to create and sustain 90,000 good-paying jobs over the next 10 years, according to a report from the U.S. economics professor who helped inspire the Obama administration's green-jobs strategy.

Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, found that most of the jobs would pay more than $20 an hour and would include a broad range of positions, from construction managers and electricians to energy auditors and sales and marketing staff.

Pollin cautioned that green jobs are not a cure-all for Ontario's employment woes, particularly as they relate to losses in the automotive and forestry sectors. But he said the province is "pushing in the right direction" and will gain even more benefits in the long run.

"That 90,000 figure is a very solid number," he said. "Basically, what's going on with the green employment issue is you're shifting to a more labour-intensive economy and you're shifting to a higher local content economy, so there's a stabilizing effect there. You're not going to lose those jobs five months from now."

Of those jobs, he calculated that 38,400 would be directly related to green industries and about 31,100 would be indirect jobs.

The remaining 20,900 would be "induced jobs" – that is, jobs that result from the spending of those who occupy direct and indirect positions.

Pollin estimated the green-energy investments that would take place in Ontario over the next 10 years would total $47.1 billion, spread between eight areas: conservation and energy efficiency, hydroelectric, onshore wind, offshore wind, bioenergy, waste-energy recycling, solar power, and smart-grid development.

"In Massachusetts, we're talking it up all the time but not doing anything," he said. "By contrast, this measure in Ontario is far more serious than anything people talk about here. Just the fact of having an aggressive policy and explicitly linking it to employment creation is excellent."

Ken Neumann, national director for the United Steelworkers in Canada, said the perceived benefit of pursuing a green-jobs strategy in Ontario is reinforced by the report. "These are good, decent jobs. You can sustain your family with them," he said.

The United Steelworkers is a member of Blue Green Canada, a partnership with Environmental Defence.

Though an unholy alliance, given the history between unions and environmentalists, the two organizations have a common interest in promoting the growth of green-collar jobs.

Blue Green Canada, WWF-Canada and the Green Energy Act Alliance hired Pollin based on his earlier research on green-job potential in the United States.

Since becoming U.S. president, Barack Obama has incorporated many of Pollin's ideas into his own strategy around the green economy.

But the green-jobs push is not without controversy.

In March, a study by Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid, concluded that every new job created as a result of green-energy spending in Spain, which is often hailed as a model for green economics, led to the disappearance of at least 2.2 jobs in other industries.

Calzada's findings spread quickly through conservative Internet blogs and were seized on by Republicans looking to discredit the Obama administration's green-spending initiatives.

Environmentalists were just as quick to point out that Calzada is a staunch libertarian who has accepted funding from oil giant Exxon and has links to the Heartland Institute, which disputes that humans are causing climate change.