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Pre-Throne Speech Commentary Stresses Climate Impacts, Green Recovery

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With the wait for the federal Speech from the Throne winding down to the last couple of days, news analysts are pointing to air quality issues in the west and the need for a clean economy industrial strategy as evidence that now is the time for the Trudeau government to embrace a green recovery.

Opinion pieces last week on CBC and in the Globe and Mail stressed the severity of the climate emergency and argued that Ottawa can’t choose between the two crises—climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic—that the Throne Speech must address. And Globe columnist Adam Radwanski argued for an ambitious suite of green recovery policies, at a scale that will establish “the Canadian advantage” in the post-pandemic economy.

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At the Globe, Vancouver-based national affairs columnist Gary Mason opened his analysis [2] with the choking smoke that covered much of southern British Columbia last week. The number of wildfire disasters in Canada has increased from fewer than 10 in the 1980s to more than 50 between 2011 and 2017, he wrote, and “fires in California and the western United States are now an annual event and getting worse by the year.” From Australia [3] to Brazil [4] to South America’s Pantanal [5] wetlands, the phenomenon is a global one, and “there isn’t a shred of doubt in the minds of scientists that climate change is the primary cause.”

On the contrary, “scientists have been warning about this day for ages. A warming planet would force a reckoning, they said. Well, we are living it now. The real tragedy? Our political leaders still aren’t prepared to do anything about it.”

Mason took Ottawa to task for the talk of shelving its climate plan for fear of being seen to “hijack [6]” the pandemic to drive a green recovery, and blames citizens—particularly boomers—for not forcing the matter. “People need to wake up to what’s happening and demand more protective measures from governments,” he said.

On CBC, parliamentary correspondent Aaron Wherry agreed [7] that “the profound and urgent threat of climate change still hangs over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government—quite literally this week, after smoke from the wildfires in California and Oregon spread across the continent, casting a dull haze across the skies.” While the government is still facing down a global pandemic, he added, “the unfolding climate emergency will not get any easier to deal with over time—and the Liberals might regret missing any available opportunities to make meaningful progress toward the mid-century goal of net-zero emissions.”

The Trudeau Liberals already had an election platform full of green measures to implement by the time the pandemic arrived, and “a government interested in the long-term goal of a clean economy should still be able to find opportunities to do that while simultaneously addressing the short-term needs of a battered economy,” Wherry added. “The Liberals themselves did that in May when they offered funding to clean up abandoned oil wells and asked large companies applying for pandemic-related loans to provide climate risk disclosure.”

And now, “an emphasis on jobs could ground the green aspect of the government’s agenda in the most immediate and practical concerns of both nervous families and fretful economists [8]. It also would serve as a reminder that a green recovery isn’t about hugging trees—it’s about the future welfare and prosperity of Canadians.”

With that balance in mind, Radwanski said [9] measures like building energy retrofits and electric vehicle charging infrastructure seem to have momentum with the government—but won’t be enough on their own. “The punch-above-our-weight international impact that Mr. Trudeau has intermittently promised since he took office five years ago requires seizing upon the economic disruption caused by COVID-19 to set in motion something more arduous: The development of a clean economy industrial strategy,” he wrote. But “the Liberals are just beginning to grapple with determining how to go about that—the scale and complexity, opportunity, and risk.”

Radwanski referred back to his own interview with Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains over the summer, focused largely on how to build “the Canadian advantage” in cleantech and other sectors as attention turns to the post-pandemic economy. “It’s about saying, what do we have in Canada that puts us on a unique footing relative to other jurisdictions?” Bains said. “How can we leverage that in collaboration with the private sector? How can we de-risk projects? How can we invest in research and development? How can we get more capital?”

“This sort of talk, also recently heard from other corners of government and influential think tanks, horrifies adherents to the free market consensus that took hold in the 1980s,” Radwanski notes. But “many other governments have begun rolling out green recovery plans that further embrace interventionism by directing resources toward technological growth in areas where they can build competitive advantage.”

Which means “the better question than whether Ottawa should be trying to bring that approach to the clean economy transition is whether it has the attention span to do so well—to identify the right technologies to promote, and the holistic strategies needed when flashy funding announcements won’t cut it.”

There’s been no shortage of strategies put forward by an array of organizations within the climate, energy, and clean economy communities—most recently Iron & Earth, with a 10-year, C$110-billion green recovery plan that calls for upskilling for the fossil fuel work force and Indigenous workers, retooling businesses and manufacturing, repurposing old oil and gas sites for new uses, and strengthening “ecosystems, carbon sink, and green infrastructure”. The Alberta-based organization says the plan will create a million climate careers and “kick-start Canada’s climate recovery”, and is calling for “massive federal government investment now”. Its sign-on [10], which had drawn 590 signatures as of Sunday afternoon, cites the Throne Speech as “our chance to win bold federal investment and ensure long-term job security for every energy worker in Canada”.