Task force crosses partisan lines to call for $55 billion for climate, clean energy

OTTAWA — A new report from an independent task force says Canada's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic needs massive investments in clean energy, climate-resilient buildings and electric cars to keep up with a greener-shifting world.

Richard Florizone, chair of the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery, and president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said Wednesday Canada has to do more if it wants to stay in the green-economy race.

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"We have to keep our eye on the global game here," he said.

He pointed to billions of dollars of planned investments in clean energy and climate-change mitigation in Europe, as well as more than $8 billion in environment-oriented spending promised by U.S. presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

If Canada doesn't step it up, it will be left out, Florizone said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said many times this year that the environment is going to play a major role in the economic recovery, a pledge he reiterated Wednesday after a cabinet retreat in Ottawa focused on plans for next week's agenda-setting throne speech.

That speech is going to outline the Liberals' plans for the economic recovery Trudeau wants to lead the country through. To keep governing, Trudeau needs to convince at least one main opposition party to support it. The task force members are hoping their suggestions will be part of it.

Their $55-billion, five-year environmental economic plan is just one of a growing number of reports bombarding the Liberal government with demands.

This one, though, involves a former member of Trudeau's inner circle: Gerald Butts, who was Trudeau's principal secretary until February 2019, is one of the 14 task force members. The task force issued a preliminary report in July, which was given directly to the Prime Minister's Office.

The group also includes Mitchell Davidson, who spent a year as the executive policy director for Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford and masterminded Ontario Tory election platforms, and Mira Oreck, who worked for two years as a director in the office of B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan.

Butts was not available for an interview on the task force's work.

Davidson said having political perspectives from multiple parties means the task force in many ways already found common political ground.

"No matter which political party you're talking about in the federal landscape, they all believe that government is going to have to play some sort of role in recovering from COVID-19," he said.

He acknowledged that as a conservative, the $55-billion price tag on the report's recommendations is tough to swallow but also said the government could choose only some of the suggestions.

Among the proposals is to spend more than $27 billion over five years to make buildings and houses both energy-efficient and resilient against the floods, fires and massive storms that climate change is already bringing in Canada. The recommendations include financing for building retrofits and training funds so there are people skilled and ready to actually do the work.

The report says between 16 and 30 jobs are created for every $1 million invested into energy-efficiency programs, and estimates as much as 79 million tonnes a year of carbon pollution could be eliminated by maximizing energy-efficiency in Canada's buildings.

That is more than one-third of the way to Canada's Paris climate change emissions target, of reducing annual emissions to 513 million tonnes by 2030. They were 729 million tonnes in 2018.

The spring budget that never happened because of COVID-19 was widely expected to include a 2019 election promise to create $40,000 interest-free loans for homeowners and small business owners to make energy efficiency and climate resilient upgrades to their buildings.

Energy efficiency programs are often popular with voters, because it helps them make improvements to their homes, and programs that convince Canadians to spend money end up being a boon to the economy as well.

Canada is already offering rebates to help people buy electric cars, but the task force wants that assistance expanded to see Canada also manufacturing them, a program that could help the struggling auto sector.

Other asks in the task force report are $1 billion for a national strategy on hydrogen as a source of clean electricity. Hydrogen-based power is one of Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson's priorities as well.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2020.

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