Power Play: Clean Energy Politics and Policy in Ottawa

Speaker: Clare Demerse, Clean Energy Canada

October 21, 2014.

About the Author

Clare Demerse is a policy analyst at Clean Energy Canada (CEC), a think tank. She works at the CEC office in Ottawa (i.e. she is CEC’s Ottawa office, for now), and handles direct engagement and public relations on federal and national issues. She started working for Clean Energy Canada in May 2014. Prior to joining CEC, she worked for the Pembina Institute on federal climate policy. She has been in the climate & sustainable energy field since 2006. Before that, she did her undergrad in Humanities, and her Master in journalism both at Carleton University.

About the Organizations

CEC is a project led by, delivered by and funded through Tides Canada, a charity. CEC is focusing on accelerating the adoption of clean energy technologies. It was founded in 2010. It has a staff of seven people composed of one general director, one communication officer, two policy advisors, one technical analyst, and an administrative assistant (CEC, Our Team). CEC has an annual budget of $900,000 (Tides, 2014).

Tides Canada (Tides) is a non-governmental organization headquartered in BC founded in 2000. Tides consists of a shared administrative platform to support a wide array of projects and initiatives such as CEC, and foundation to attract, raise, manage, and assign donations. Tides is part of the “strategic philanthropy” movement, which aims at channelling philanthropists’ dollars (usually liberal riches’ monies) toward valuable contemporary causes, and put these dollars to work in the most effective manner, using efficient techniques and tactics from the business and public administration worlds.

Tides’ was noticed by tenors of the brown economy. For example, a former federal Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, directly referred to them as trying to “hijack” the National Energy Board with a “radical ideological agenda” (National Post 2012). More recently in August 2014, Tides has been selected by the Canada Revenue Agency for a political activity audit, along with other charities with similar inclination for environmental activism. (Toronto Star, 2014)

CEC’s main tactical approaches to date to pursue their mission include: (i) publications based on modeling or research; (ii) communications using various platforms, including its website, a weekly newsletter, presentations at congresses and conferences, and media; and (iii) Engagement and partnering with other NGOs, think tanks, research institutes, universities as well as government entities at both the municipal, provincial and federal level.

About the Presentation

Clare’s presentation focused on CEC’s intervention to date at the federal level. Clare said that while it is true that sustainable energy, natural resource development and climate change are a mixed jurisdiction and that actions and policies at the provincial/territorial level have been and will remain of great importance, the issue is nevertheless too large and too critical to be ignored by the federal government. First, because Canada needs a cohesive and robust response to the challenges of climate change, and second, because Canada needs a proper liaison with international instances to partake in negotiation and planning of the global response in good faith, and in an informed manner.

Clare’s presentation was divided in three parts: (1) a presentation of excerpts from CEC’s latest publication, Tracking the Energy Revolution (CEC, 2014), (2) an overview of clean energy politics at the federal level, and (3) CEC’s recommendations to the federal government.

(1) Tracking the Energy Revolution is a report gathering a variety of statistics in support of the claim that government support and promotion of clean technologies could yield economic benefits and improve the wellbeing of Canadians. The report was relayed to the English-speaking general public by the Globe and Mail (Globe and Mail, 2014).

Clare and the CEC designed the Tracking the Energy Revolution report as a communication piece to (a) make it as accessible and attractive as possible to Canadian media – hence the sleek graphic design, lots of pictures, and positive upbeat tone –, and (b) to address and counter the most protuberant concerns – the yes-buts – usually expressed by climate skeptics and proponents of the do-nothing option – such as “yes but China builds a new coal plant every day”, “yes but oil & gas is our comparative advantage”, “yes but so many jobs depend on oil and gas”, and “yes but the renewable energy business is so small in the global economy, it’s so much of a niche”. Clare talked about the rebuttal to each of the yes-buts contained in the Tracking the Energy Revolution report.

(2) Clare discussed the current state of the climate change and sustainable energy debate in federal politics. She walked us through the position of the three main parties represented in the House of Commons. The Conservatives vowed not to do anything that would hurt the economy, have been strong advocate of the oil & gas sector, of pipeline projects, and have generously financed carbon capture and storage research and development, and have been strongly vilifying any past and future (and sometimes imaginary) carbon pricing proposals.

Furthermore, Clare presented the NDP as being supportive of clean energy, clean energy job creation, and energy efficiency; and the Liberals as being vaguely in the middle of the debate with statements such as “support for significant spending on green infrastructure”, and “commitment to fair and reasonable carbon pricing and climate action”.

To finish with, Clare highlighted that the Conservative federal government has currently has only three funded programs aiming at curbing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, which she says is very little; all others that are claimed as achievement by the government are not currently active of have been watered down.

(3) CEC’s main recommendations to the federal government consist of: (a) promoting both oil and gas, and clean energy in the short term; (b) switching to clean energy in the longer term because we need to achieve deep decarbonisation to avoid the worst climate change scenario; (c) realizing the perils of an economy that is too reliant on volatile global fossil fuel markets; (d) increasing funding for clean energy deployment, research and development, and the same for electric vehicles, (e) changing the tax code to encourage clean energy investments, (f) investing and support clean energy infrastructure including power transmission projects, smart grid upgrades, and pilot projects; and (g) strengthening the climate policies through regulations, carbon pricing, target setting and climate diplomacy.

Question and Answer Period

In conclusion, during the question and answer period, the following high-level discussion areas came out:

The morality of using the economic argument to promote sustainable energy, with some members of the audience suggesting that the virtuous rationale for sustainable energy is climate change mitigation and thus that the argument should stick with this ideal. Other members of the audience advocated for clever use of the economic argument. Clare and the CEC are somehow sitting in the middle, acknowledging the climate change problem as a fundamental driver, but highlighting that the climate skeptics and do-nothing proponents plentifully use the economic argument, hence the need to counter with a better economic argument in order to avoid a deft dialogue.

The challenges of a nation-wide carbon pricing scheme – including the challenges of establishing a price level, and the challenges of creating a national carbon tax when BC and Quebec already create their tax scheme and draw revenues from it.

The strategies and challenges surrounding the run up to the next federal election, which will then be followed almost immediately with the next Convention of Parties under the UNFCCC in Paris. Whichever is going to be the next party in power will have to figure out what Canada’s position is going to be in Paris. The discussion surrounded whether climate change should be an election issue (Clare thinks it should), and whether the parties should make target commitments (Clare thinks it might be politically misadvised).

Precis completed by Vincent Dufresne, Brenna Furlong & Erin Crawley, MA Sustainable Energy students

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