Ontario’s proposed recovery budget promises to “protect, support, and recover” but a green recovery is nowhere in sight. Resources to strengthen frontline health care, support people and employers, and lay the groundwork for Ontario’s recovery will supply appropriate and much-needed relief as the province grapples with the pandemic and economic uncertainty. What’s missing is investment to stimulate green jobs and align health and economic recovery goals with urban climate objectives as other recovery plans have done in BC and across Europe. Cities across Canada have declared climate emergencies and their carbon reduction windows are closing in fast.
The biggest missed opportunity is energy efficiency. Programs to save energy in our homes, businesses and institutions provide a cross-partisan win, with the best bang for your buck when governments need to save money, reduce carbon, and spin off other public benefits like job creation. What’s worse, the budget undermines energy efficiency with a plan to flow $1.3 billion over the next three years to subsidize electricity use by medium and large industrial and commercial companies.
The objective of supporting employers during difficult economic times is commendable, but it comes at the direct expense of average Ontario taxpayers who will receive no benefit from these rate cuts. The rationale is also questionable – while some Ontario customers have higher electricity prices than other provinces, this is mainly due to recent investment needed to upgrade electricity infrastructure and nuclear refurbishment. It is incorrect and unfair to lay the full blame on the small contribution from increased renewable energy.
In contrast, energy efficiency programs can achieve the same (and much better) savings for both rate payers and businesses while simultaneously reducing dangerous carbon pollution.
A modest but meaningful tweak to the government’s plan would be to invest even a fraction of the $1.3 billion on aggressive, electricity efficiency programs; this would be a game-changer given the limited current spending (about $173 million per year) on efficiency. Even better, the government should make this a mandate of the electric utilities and shift this off the taxpayers, so costs are paid by those who benefit.
Investing in reducing energy waste and costs is the smart way forward, and will help cities recover economically, build resilience, and reach their goals of carbon neutral by 2050. We shouldn’t squander this opportunity to align recovery with a low-carbon future, leveraging Ontario’s commitment to fiscal responsibility to achieve gains for people, businesses, and the climate.