All posts by Will Dubitsky

About Will Dubitsky

Will Dubitsky worked for the Government of Canada on sustainable development policies, legislation, programs and clean tech innovation projects/consortia. He lives in Quebec.

Europe leads the way on building a green economy

Europe leads the way on building a green economy


Europe's big leap on renewable energy, climate action

The European Union has fast become the global leader on migrating to a green economy, with its Emissions Trading System (cap and trade scheme) in place since 2005. Canada has much to learn from the current and future EU debates on establishing new targets  for 2030 – particularly how to fast-forward its badly lagging green economy following the next federal election in 2015.

The EU: a green economy success story

The foundations for the discussions on 2030 targets are the binding EU 2020 targets.  These targets entail:

  • a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels;
  • raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewables to 20%
  • a 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency.

Under this system, each country has its own binding national targets based on its relative capacities to contribute to EU-wide goals.

In the case of Germany, for example, it had already reduced its emissions by 25% in 2012, thereby exceeding its Kyoto 2012 target of 21% – all while being one of the world’s strongest economies.  These facts are contrary to what Stephen Harper would have us believe to the effect that  economic development and sustainable development are opposing forces for which there can be no reconciliation.

Indeed, measured in terms of economic impacts, the EU’s progress to-date is staggering, especially with respect to job creation.  There are presently 3.5M people employed in the EU green sector, with annual job growth for the sector at 180,000 new jobs/year from 1999 to 2008.  Even during the worst of the EU’s economic crisis, most of these jobs were retained and many more were created.

Renewable energy-related jobs in the EU were up to 1.2M in 2012 and the projection for 2020 is  2.7M.  With the right policies, this could reach 4M jobs by 2030.

The European Commission’s White Paper

Against this backdrop, to initiate EU discussions on 2030 targets and build on the momentum of the 2020 goals, the highly conservative and corporate-friendly European Commission took up the task of producing a White Paper for release on January 22, 2014.

In the months preceding the publication of the White Paper, a major debate arose among EU member nations as to whether: 1) there should be 2030 binding triple targets – EU-wide and nation-specific, and in keeping with the precedent set with the 2020 triple goals; or 2) simply have a stand-alone binding GHG reduction target to be accompanied eventually by state-specific GHG targets.  In its White Paper of January 22nd, the European Commission came down in favour of the second option.

The White Paper called for a 40% GHG reduction target with binding requirements for EU member states and an “at least” 27% renewables goal that would be binding on the EU, but not binding on the member states individually. 

Under the European Commission’s formula, not only would an EU-wide binding renewable energy target be difficult to enforce in the absence of a binding renewables target for each nation, but also the 27% renewables target would reduce by one third the momentum set by the 2020 goals.  That is, modeling of the 40% GHG reduction target suggests that the 27% renewables portion of the EU-wide energy supply would be achieved anyway, without the Commission’s renewables target.

UK, Poland resist binding clean energy goals; 8 countries in favour

The aforementioned Commission’s position went against the recommendations submitted in a January, 2014 letter from the energy ministers of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Portugal – written to commissioners Connie Hedegaard,  the commissioner for climate action, and Gunther Oettinger, the commissioner for energy. The letter urged binding clean energy goals for every EU nation.

It also stated that such an approach is essential to providing the renewable sector with the certainty it needs for long-term, cost-effective investments. Sigmar Gabriel, the German Minister of Economics and Energy, indicated that the extraordinary progress achieved to date would not have been possible without the combination of nation-specific binding GHG and renewable energy targets.

Particularly on the minds of those supporting binding targets for renewables is the fact that the EU is the part of a world which is most dependent on imported fossil fuels. In 2012, EU spent $740B on importing these fuels. Accordingly, the International Energy Agency has described the path to reducing this dependency as being that of greater reliance on domestically-produced, clean energy and greater energy efficiency.

Fracking among UK motives for non-binding targets

In this confrontation of positions, it is the UK, in particular, that has been very vocal in opposing a renwables target because it wants to have the flexibility to include nuclear, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), and fracking technologies in its energy strategy. Consequently, the UK has been advocating a 50% GHG target without renewables targets.

Fittingly, Oliver Krischer, German MP from the opposition Green Party, said proposals to scrap binding renewable energy and energy efficiency targets for 2030 are intended to initiate a renaissance of nuclear power and push through fracking and CCS activities through the back door.

Another big obstacle to a renewables binding target at national levels is Poland, for which coal represents 90% of its electrical power generation.

The European Parliament passes triple and binding 2030 targets

Consistent with the aforementioned debates within the EU, on February 4, 2014, Members of the European Parliament, in a plenary non-binding vote, voted 347 to 308  in favour three binding targets on national levels, a 40% reduction in GHGs; a 30% target pertaining for energy  from renewables; and a 40% improvement in energy efficiency.  This February 2014 MEP vote is consistent with the recommendations of the European Parliament’s Environment and Industry Committees on a three-target, binding approach.

According to the European Wind Energy Association, the 30% binding renewables targets for EU member states could provide 570,000 new jobs and save $818B in imports of fossil fuels, all while lowering costs for energy-intensive industries.

Next Steps

The MEP vote notwithstanding, it is just one step in a lengthy process leading up to final legislation in 2017.   Moreover, the vote in the European Parliament does not require member states to approve national binding targets.

On February 19, 2014, there will be a Franco-German summit on energy cooperation. Then, on March 4, 2014, the EU energy ministers will meet.  This will be followed by a European Council meeting of heads of state on March 8-9, 2014.

Further down the road, European Commission commissioners will be replaced in 2014 and firm legislative proposals are not expected before 2015, after the European parliamentary elections. Subsequently, it may take about two years before the final policies become EU law.

Adding to the cocktail of views that will contribute to these debates are the positions of clean tech sector stakeholders, adamantly in favour of national, binding renewables targets.

Taken together, the EU discussions on the pros and cons of different 2030 options could prove to be enlightening for Canadians reviewing options to catch up to the Europeans, who are already way ahead of Canada on the migration to a green economy.  Moreover, their successes and failures to date in advancing their respective countries offer models for consideration for Canada. Accordingly, as a contributor to The Common Sense Canadian, I will continue to provide articles on new EU green economy developments.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the February meeting of the European Parliament included a vote in favour of extending the EU Fuel Quality Directive beyond 2020, thus banning tar sands imports to the EU indefinitely – likely to the great displeasure of Stephen Harper.

Motorized boats stir up problems for BC's salmon rivers

Motorized boats stir up problems for BC’s salmon rivers


Motorized boats stir up problems for BC's salmon rivers

by Will Dubitsky and Jean Clark

Two distinct pieces of federal legislation govern activities in and on our rivers, lakes and coastal waters: 1) The Canada Shipping Act, concerning the waterway surface and the protection navigation rights; 2) The Fisheries Act, pertaining to protection of the marine habitat, below the surface of these same waters.  But while they apply to the same waters, on and below the surface respectively, the two Acts do not connect.   In other words, under the current legislative framework, one cannot impose restrictions on certain types of motorized boats based on their impacts on the marine habitat.

In effect, regardless of the variances in environmental and community challenges from one waterway to another, the legislative challenges are the same, leaving communities across Canada without the means to protect their respective local environments and community interests.

BC’s ecologically sensitive salmon rivers left unprotected

Over the past 3 decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of recreational boaters on BC’s waterways.  Gone are the days when the only boat one would see was the occasional fisherman in his “tinny” with a small outboard motor.

Across the province, lakes and rivers, big and small, are now accessed by an increasing number of bigger, faster and much more powerful boats.  Recreation in BC is big business.  While the increased congestion on BC’s large lakes creates numerous safety concerns, it is on the smaller lakes and rivers that the harmful environmental effects are most evident.

Studies dating back to the 1950’s (Lagler et al) identified the harmful effects of boat-caused erosion and sedimentation on aquatic plants and animals.  Lagler found that prolonged use of an outboard in 75 centimetre deep water, and a propeller 35 centimetres from the bottom, removed all plants and silt from a swath 1.5 metres wide.  In the ensuing six decades, study after study in the US and Canada have indicated that operating a boat in water less than 2 metres deep damages the aquatic ecosystem.

The erosive effects of boat wakes are also well-documented.  In studies too numerous to mention, boat wakes have been shown to cause shoreline erosion and disturbance to aquatic mammals and nesting waterfowl while boat noise chases waterfowl from their nests.  These disturbances devour the birds’ scarce resources and can lead to a serious long-term decline in waterfowl.

BC is blessed with hundreds of salmon-bearing rivers and streams.  Hundreds of thousands of salmon fry live suspended in these shallow waters before making their way to the Pacific Ocean.  With the advent of jet boat technology, high-powered aluminium hulled boats can travel at high speeds in these extremely shallow and ecologically sensitive marine environments.

wake boat
Powerful, modern “wake boats” are kicking up waves and protest

One BC boat manufacturer has a model called “Extreme Shallow” designed for “skinny water” fun and boasts it can operate in just 5 inches of water.  The impellers of these jet boats can pump as much as 3000 to 4000 gallons of water a minute.

The result?  Salmon fry, and the aquatic insects that are their food supply, are crushed or washed ashore by these powerful forces.  Similar impacts are associated with other types of motorized watercraft that generate wakes in these highly environmentally fragile salmon-bearing rivers. Nevertheless, though all this evidence in studies dates back more than 60 years, communities remain powerless to do something about this in the absence of a modern legislative framework.

While Transport Canada’s safe boating guide states that a 10 kph speed should be observed if less than 30 metres from shore, these common-sense guidelines do not apply to our rivers, where the 30 metre rule would effectively restrict boats to a no-wake speed on most inland rivers and streams.

Legislative framework hinders constructive solutions

The Canada Shipping Act, administered by Transport Canada, ensures that there are no impediments to navigation and that marine transportation is conducted in a safe manner.  Not only is the Act ill-suited and not intended for protection of the environment, but also Transport Canada requires that all non-regulatory options be explored before a municipality can proceed with a request for a regulatory solution.  In this regard, Transport Canada strongly encourages communities to adopt a voluntary code of conduct with near 100% adherence.  This latter requirement is a source of irresolvable conflicts across Canada because few communities can achieve the necessary level of voluntary support for the code of conduct to be effective.

Accordingly, municipal governments and community organizations across Canada have been unable or unwilling to tackle this issue, anticipating a complicated and potentially controversial process that can take years while, all too often, pitting neighbour against neighbour in what may seem like a never ending ordeal.

The second piece of legislation, the Fisheries Act, administered by Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was created in 1867 and remains one of Canada’s oldest existing pieces of legislation. While its mandate is to conserve and protect fisheries resources in all Canadian waterways by protecting the marine habitat, the current government has rendered the Act an empty shell, at the request of the pipeline industry.

Moreover, recent DFO enforcement changes include the reduction of DFO staffing to levels last seen in the 1980’s and the removal of the term “Habitat Management Program” from their organization and offices.  DFO offices are being closed across the country and habitat protection staff are being laid off.  The confluence of massive new industrial development and severe cuts to staff, can and will surely, harm habitat and fisheries of the future.  There is no will presently within DFO to take the action required to protect our waterways from harm caused by recreational boats.

Suffice to say that: 1) neither of the two Acts were designed to address the current pressures that recreational boating poses for communities across the country; 2)  the Fisheries Act is now so weakened that it has to be re-written, practically starting from the equivalent of a blank page; and 3) the two Acts must be linked in order to protect the marine habitat via restrictions on certain types of boating activity.

Will Dubitsky is a Quebec-based contributor to The Common Sense Canadian. Jean Clark is the Director of the Lower Shuswap Stewardship Society. Both are co-founders of the newly-formed Coalition for Responsible and Sustainable Navigation, which will work with communities across Canada to drive legislative protections for waterways from motorized boating.

Germany shows a thriving green economy is possible

Germany shows a thriving green economy is possible


Germany shows a thriving green economy is possible

When Prime Minister Harper is challenged on his environmental record, one of his standard replies is that between economic development and sustainable development, he must give priority to the economy.  While it suits Harper’s ideological agenda to imply that economic and environmental objectives are opposing forces, the facts suggest otherwise.

[quote]In 2011, there were 372,000 people working in the nation’s clean energy sectors and the projections are such that these numbers are expected to be in the 400,000 to 500,000 range by 2020.[/quote]

Canada falling far behing world leaders like Germany

Indeed, as indicated in my previous Common Sense Canadian articles, the clean technology sectors are among the world’s fastest-growing and highest job-creating sectors of our times.  Unfortunately, each year of Conservative rule represents a rapidly expanding green jobs gap between Canada and its competitors.

Among nation-specific models that disprove the Harper economic paradigm – to the effect that a natural resource-based economy is the best vehicle for prosperity – Germany is a case in point.  That is, Germany, while rising to become one of the globe’s strongest national economies, reduced its emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2012, thus exceeding its Kyoto Protocol commitment to reduce its emissions by 21% below 1990 levels for the 2008 to 2012 period.

This is an especially remarkable achievement in light of the economic troubles in much of Europe and in the world at-large.

Components of the German Success Story

This German success story is a result of numerous factors – one might say a holistic approach.

One of the important pillars of this success story is the 2001 German Renewable Energy Act, which introduced the concept of a Feed-in-tariff (FIT) and right to connect (RTC) formula to the world – a concept entailing: 1) the paying of above-market rates for renewable energy sources over a specified time period, combined with 2) a requirement that all sources of renewable energy production within a given utility’s region must be connected to, and given priority within, the network.

This concept makes sense economically in that all new sources of energy cost more than existing sources that were developed some time ago and may be fully paid for.  Over time, the plan calls for a reduction of FIT rates for new renewable power entries to the grid, thus providing incentives for manufactures to invest in innovation to lower costs.

Attesting to the success of the formula is the fact that the German model has since been emulated by 19 of the 27 EU states and 40 jurisdictions around the globe, including China.  Up until recently, Ontario offered such a system.

Community ownership of renewable energy

The success synergies resulting from the aforementioned FIT/RTC model and the rapid uptake of renewables also comprise attractive terms of engagement for community and individual ownership of renewable energy production.  To this effect, in 2013, 50% of the entire Germany production of renewables is owned by individuals, communities and cooperatives – with the sources ranging from home rooftop solar panels to wind power and biogas production on agricultural land.   With regard to the latter point, farmers account for 11% of total German renewable production.

In effect, the individual homeowner uptake has been so successful that a March, 2013 survey showed 60% of homeowners are considering adding rooftop solar for heating or electricity generation.

An equally significant symptom of success is the fact that in May, 2013, a €50m ($66.5M) program was introduced for power-storage systems for owners of small and medium-sized PV solar installations in order to kick-start the storage sector and take pressure off grids.  This has become necessary because grids are increasingly struggling with rising amounts of homemade renewable energy flooding the system at midday, creating an imbalance in supply and demand and having a distorting effect on the market.

As for the role of the utilities in the clean energy high-local-ownership landscape, only 13.5% of the nation’s renewable power is produced by Germany’s 4 major utilities and regional and municipal utilities.

Few countries have outdone Germany on this score, other than Denmark, where 83% of the renewable power sources are owned by individuals and communities.

Perhaps the most significant bottom line success of the German approach is the job numbers – once more demonstrating that the Harper economic paradigm is dated.  In 2011, there were 372,000 people working in the nation’s clean energy sectors and the projections are such that these numbers are expected to be in the 400,000 to 500,000 range by 2020.

Fukushima accelerates migration to renewables

A major acceleration force for the German migration to a green economy was the Fukushima meltdown in 2011, the German Energiewende (the energy transition). The program saw 8 of its oldest nuclear power plants shut down immediately after the disaster struck and includes plans for the shutting down of the remaining 9 plants by 2022.

As for filling the gaps left by the remaining planned shutdowns, a study by engineering form BEW concluded that onshore wind could replace all nuclear plants, with backup from other renewable sources.

Offshore wind a key component of Germany’s energy future

Accordingly, among other things, the new Energiewende package comprised: 1) an increase in the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT)  for offshore wind; 2) a commitment from kfw, the state development bank, for $7.2B of investments in offshore wind development, and 3) a plan to cut electricity consumption by 10% by 2020.

To be eligible for the premium for offshore wind, originally, Energiewende projects were to be completed by 2017, but given delays in the construction of the underwater offshore TenneT cable and 30 year project lifecycles, the offshore wind industry’s lobbying efforts were rewarded by the newly re-elected Merkel-led government with a November 2013 decision to extend the completion date requirement to the end of 2019.

Germany aims for 80% emissions reduction by 2050

On longer-term Energiewende objectives, the 2050 goal is ambitious, calling for a reduction of emissions by 80% with 80% of its electricity derived from renewable sources by then. Not bad considering that only 23% of the nation’s electricity was attributable to renewables in 2012. Interim renewable electricity targets are set at 35% by 2020 and 50% by 2030.

With there being a strong renewables lobby in the country – unlike Canada, where the fossil fuel industry plays a dominant role – the German renewable industry is exercising its clout to suggest a 47% renewables target for 2020.

In this regard, the results of the September, 2013 German federal elections may in fact mean that the interim goals could become more stringent because: 1) Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) are forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD); and 2) the SPD had campaigned for a 40-45% target for renewable electricity sources by 2020 and 75% for 2030. The SPD campaign also included a 25% target by 2020 for co-generation, the combining of heat and power generation.

Clearly, the Energiewende will be high on the political agenda because it was a component of the Merkel election platform.

Shift away from Nuclear still not fast enough, most Germans say

Notwithstanding the impressive speed of the energy transition away from nuclear, for much of the German public, the abandoning of nuclear power is not going fast enough.  A March, 2013 poll by Infratest Dimap showed that 57% of Germans believe the shift away from nuclear is going too slowly, while only 30% feel it’s advancing too fast.

This same poll also illustrated another big difference between the energy and climate change debates in Germany versus Canada.  The poll had 39% indicating that environmental protection should be among the main criteria for political decisions.

Lastly, consistent with the Energiewende goals, Germany will be building 4,400km of new transmission lines by 2022, the year of the shutdown of all of the remaining nuclear plants.  This includes connecting offshore wind resources in the North and Baltic Seas.

Clean Energy vs. Fossil Fuels for electrical power: the economics

Contrary to appearances, the premium rate for renewables does not involve subsidies, as the costs are passed on to consumers. As one would expect, the German fossil fuel industry has complained that the surcharge to consumers for renewables gives renewables an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace.

But a Greenpeace study showed that the exact opposite is true. Specifically, while renewables received €17B ($22.7B) in aid via the surcharge in 2012, the fossil and nuclear sectors actually represented a staggering €40B ($54B) in hidden costs.  The hidden costs are composed of direct state aid and tax breaks, as well as external damage costs associated with climate change impacts and costs resulting from nuclear accidents – all of which are borne by taxpayers. But – unlike the renewables surcharge – these costs don’t appear on electricity bills and aren’t transparent. If these hidden costs were slapped on electricity bills, consumers would be burdened with a surcharge of €0.102/kWh (14₵/kWh).

Wind, solar now close to on par with fossil fuel costs

Based on these calculations, currently wind, solar and hydro are the cheapest sources of electrical supply. According to a Nov, 2013 Fraunhofer ISE study, with innovation driving down production costs, actual costs for wind are now lower than coal and gas. Solar production costs are still higher than fossil sources but the ratio is expected to favour solar by 2030.

More generally, the impact of the German energy model on the country’s electricity mix has been that of pushing of gas-fired plants out of the market, and the lowering of load factors for both coal and gas-fired plants, expected to decline to 33% by 2015.

Taking into account the popularity of the German model throughout Europe and the influence of the European cap-and-trade scheme – The European Trading System (ETS – cap and trade system) – E.ON, one of Germany’s largest utilities, indicated it may close 11 gigawatts (GW) of fossil fuel capacity across Europe by 2015.  In July 2013, EnBW, another German utility, announced plans to mothball 668 megawatts (MW) of fossil fuel production, involving 4 power facilities.

Lessons for Canada from Germany, European Cap and Trade

Germany’s achievements mean that it will be one of the most, if not the most, important contributor to achieving the EU-wide aggregated goal for a 20% reduction in GHG’s by 2020. (Note: to achieve the EU goal, member states have also taken on nation-specific targets related to national wealth for GHGs not covered by the EU ETS, such as the housing, agriculture, waste and transport sectors – sectors representing 60% of total EU emissions).

As Canadians contemplate the possibility of adopting some cap-and-trade scheme like Europe’s ETS, it is worth considering: 1) The degree to which the ETS has helped put EU nations on track for meeting their respective Kyoto targets; 2) the fact that it has become less influential in reducing carbon as the price of carbon has dropped considerably in recent years. Indeed the price of carbon declined from €13.09/tonne in 2010 to a new record low of €2.63/tonne in April 2013.

The European Commission has recommended backloading 900 carbon credits – that is temporarily removing them from the market. In July 2013, the European Parliament approved the measure, which now must be ratified by the European Energy Ministers.

For Germany’s part, the backloading details will largely be a funtion of the outcome of coalition government negotiations. The CDU wants backloading to be an integral part of a long term plan, while the SPD wants a onetime one-of solution.

Accordingly, the lesson for Canada here is that any cap and trade system that Canada sets up should include a mechanism for annual reviews of the supply and demand for emission credits to ensure no oversupply occurs that can drive down the price of credits.

As well, for select sectors which may have difficulty in complying with Canada’s cap-and-trade scheme, a loan guarantee program – with a maximum of one-loan/firm – may be in order.­­­­­­­­­­­

Parti-Quebecois Charte de-Valeurs explained in plain English

Pauline Marois, La Charte des Valeurs explained…in plain English

Parti-Quebecois Charte de-Valeurs explained in plain English
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois (Francis Vachon/CP)

On November 7, the Parti Québécois government at long last introduced a Bill on the La Charte des valeurs (Charter of values) to the National Assembly, but under a new, very long name: La Charte affirmant les valeurs de laïcité et de neutralité religieuse de l’État ainsi que d’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et encadrant les demandes d’accommodements (The Charter affirming laic values,the neutrality of the state as well as equality between men and women and a framework for requests for accommodation).  For the purpose of simplicity, from here on the Bill will be referred to as La Charte.

The purpose of this article is to provide background information or the context for La Charte. Most of the information contained in this article is common knowledge for francophone Québec but rarely available in English and, as such, virtually unknown to English Canada.  This leads to many misunderstandings, often referred to as the two solitudes.

La Charte des valeurs appeals to variety of very different groups

Contrary to what many in English Canada may think, the debate in Québec about La Charte represents a cocktail of factors.

One of the main components of the cocktail has to do with the Québec dark years known as “la grande noirceur” –  the years during which the Québec francophone community lived under draconian Catholic Church rule, when music and films were censored, women who had sexual relations prior marriage were sent into the streets, and abducted children born outside marriage were put in Church orphanages.

One might say that these dark years are now looked upon by the majority of Québécois as being as reprehensible as residential schools are for members of Canada’s First Nations.

Accordingly, the sentiment to separate religion from the state is several notches stronger in Québec than in the rest of Canada.

Add to this cocktail the fact that, for women, these dark years included women being labelled as inferior in a male-controlled world.  Consequently, many in the feminist movement want to make sure that religious symbols of inferiorization, worn on one’s body or otherwise, are banned from the public sector.

Yet another component of the cocktail is the 1936-1039 and 1944-1959 reign of  Premier Maurice Duplessis, who had a pact with the Catholic Church to control the people.  Under the pact, the Church would run the Catholic schools, the hospitals and civil society in general, as long as it kept the people docile under the Duplessis economic development formula, entailing cheap labour and union/communist-busting features.  In honour of this pact, in 1936 Premier Duplessis had a crucifix placed over the Speaker’s chair in the National Assembly.

Pauline Marois follows Harper model of targeting markets

Pauline Marois, like Stephen Harper, wants to be in full control and consequently detests being stuck in a minority government position.  But because her first year in power has been one of a seemingly endless series of incoherent improvisations, she has lost control of public opinion. In that sense, her government is not all that different than the Charest Liberal government that preceded the PQ.

While she had promised she would eliminate the health tax during her election campaign, her first budget included a health tax of $200 for those earning $42,000 to $100,000.  Another election promise entailed addressing the absurdly low royalties and taxes paid by Quebec’s mining industry, but once in power, she backed down to the industry lobby.

She had promised to migrate Quebec to a green economy, but, so far, she seems okay with the two pipeline proposals to transport tar sands oil into – and crossing through – Quebec, and is not ruling out exploiting potential local oil reserves.

All this has added up to widespread dissatisfaction with the Marois government and poor prospects for pursuing a majority government.  This is where La Charte comes in.

Marois’ game plan

In early Fall 2013, Pauline Marois introduced the Charte, figuring it could position the PQ for a majority government by creating a perceived crisis among Québécois to the effect that Québec had an epidemic of new religious immigrants who were imposing their values on the majority population.

The game plan entailed calling an election for December 2013, while La Charte was a hot topic, and cutting into the homogenous outlying regions’ right wing nationalist vote – designed to foster a migration of the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec (CAQ) vote over to the PQ.  That made “political sense” in that CAQ support is declining.

The plan also counted on the feminist movement.  Accordingly, as did Harper when he placed “correct thinking” people on the Board of Rights and Democracy, Marois appointed four new “correct thinking” members to the Conseil du statut de la femme (Council on the Status of Women).  But it backfired when the president of the Conseil, Julie Miville-Dechêne, publicly denounced this political interference.  The reality is that the woman’s movement in Québec is divided on the issue.

November’s Montreal municipal elections

During this same period, all four of the main candidates for Mayor of Montreal for the November 3, 2013 elections came out against the Charte.

On election day, Denis Coderre, former federal Liberal Cabinet minister – the very in-the-box, unimaginative candidate for mayor with a sparse and vague platform (he actually thinks more parking spaces downtown is a solution to Montreal’s infamous congestion problems) – became the city’s new mayor with 32% of the vote.  On La Charte, Coderre had said in one of the election debates that he would contest it in the courts if it included the ban on religious symbols in the public sector.

For common Sense Canadian readers in BC, it may be also interesting to note that innovative, visionary candidate for mayor, Richard Bergeron of Projet Montréal, often referred to Vancouver as a model for urban densification and a green city.  He came in second with 25.6%.

New voices against La Charte

Concurrent with the municipal election campaigning, others condemning the Charte elements pertaining to the wearing of religious symbols were Quebec’s hospitals’ association, universities, a teachers’ union, a private daycare centres’ association and many more.

Adding his voice to this opposition, the president of La Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse  (human rights and youth rights commission), Jacques Frémont, went public to say La Charte would not pass the test of either the Quebec Charter of Rights or the Canadian Charter of Rights in the event of a legal challenge. Either the PQ would have to modify the proposed Charte or revert to the “Notwithstanding clause.”

In effect, it has become very clear that it would be impossible to apply La Charte in the Montreal Statistics Canada census area, which attracts 87% of Québec immigrants and which represents over 45% of the population of Québec.

But all these obstacles did not deter the PQ.

Rather, the factor that changed Pauline Marois’ mind about going into a December 2013 election with the highly emotional Charte as a wedge issue, was the polls, which did not reflect the support she hoped for. As a result, as of October 27, the December 2013 election hype has been called off.

Swinging Further to the Right

Cultivating the right nationalist vote for La Charte is not, unfortunately, an isolated incident.

Shortly after coming into power, the Marois government appointed Pierre Karl Péladeau – controlling shareholder of Quebecor and Sun Media, well-known for his support of right wing causes – to sit on the Board of Hydro-Québec.  Péladeau has since attended at least two Marois Cabinet meetings.

His spouse, Julie Snyder, host of the popular Star Académie (Québec equivalent to American Idol), is one of the members of the Janette movement, a women’s movement in support of La Charte.  Julie Snyder is also involved in the development of a television production presenting a favourable portrait of  Marois, to be aired on TVA, a TV network owned by Péladeau’s media empire.

Which brings us back to what Pauline Marois said when she became the leader of the PQ.  At the time, she said she would modernize social democracy.  She never explained what she meant, but after a year in power, it is becoming clearer as to what she had in mind – going after the right wing nationalist vote to put sovereignty over the top.  Fortunately for Canada, the game plan is not working.  But absolutely nothing can deter Pauline Marois. On November 7, she introduced La Charte to the Quebec National Assembly.

La Charte goes to the National Assembly

Pauline Marois knows that her Bill on La Charte will not get passed as proposed under the minority government at the National Assembly. But like Harper with his obsessions, Marois continues to insist that her Charte will unite Québécois, once again hoping that – eventually, that is – by the time the minority government is dissolved, she will be able to count on gaining new support among the right wing nationalists in Quebec’s outlying regions.

One might conclude that Pauline Marois is engaged in what Einstein referred to as insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

China's chaotic leap forward to a green economy

China’s chaotic leap forward to a green economy


China's chaotic leap forward to a green economy

When most people talk of China and its environmental and energy challenges, they tend to paint a very bleak picture.  While this view is historically justified, things are changing fast in today’s China.

Criticism of China’s environmental record has been traditionally well-justified. After all, China:  1) displaced the US as the world’s largest energy consumer as of 2009 – doubling its energy consumption between 2000 and 2009; 2) produces the world’s  highest pollution levels, with 16 of the top 20 most-polluted cities in the world being in China; and 3) now has total annual vehicle sales higher than that of the US.

[quote]China went from 1% of the global market for solar technologies in 2004 to 50% by 2012[/quote]

Add to this picture the fact that approximately 62% of China’s current electrical power generation is derived from thermal, mainly coal-fired, generating plants and much of China’s industrial pollution emanates from plants with dated technologies.

China invests hundred of billions in green economy

The flip side to this gloomy portrait is that China is actively migrating to a green economy, albeit in sometimes chaotic fashion.  Indeed, in 2012, China had the highest level of investments in clean energy, totalling $67.7B – up 20% from 2011 due to a solar sector surge.  The US was in a distant second place with $42.4B in clean energy investments in 2012.

With these sharp contradictions, one might be tempted to conclude that China is schizophrenic on environmental issues. However, that would be unfair because the trends are shifting in favour of clean technologies, supported with massive investments by the national government.

In fact, in 2009, China committed a staggering $223B to clean technologies, sustainable development-related R &D, energy efficiency and emissions and pollution control. In August 2012, it announced a new plan for $372B up to the year 2015.

Concurrent with the aforementioned investments, under the 2009 China Renewable Energy Law, China introduced: 1) a Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) for renewables (a fixed price paid above market prices for all renewable energy sources that sell into the grid), and 2) Right-to-Connect obligations that require all grid operators buy all of the renewable energy produced in their respective regions.  (Note: the FIT and Right to Connect formula was conceived in Germany and has since been copied by 40 governments around the world, including Ontario, until that province abandoned the model in response to a WTO ruling over provisions requiring the use of locally-built technology to qualify for the program).

China’s renewable energy quota

Complementing the FIT and right to connect programs, in 2012, China began to implement a quota system for provinces and cities for the amount of their energy that must come from renewable sources.

Against this backdrop, China has become the world’s fastest growing wind energy market. With 13.2 gigawatts (GW) of new wind power capacity added in 2012,  the total wind installed capacity reached 75.6 GW by the end of 2012.  (To put this in a relative perspective, Quebec’s current total installed electricity production capacity, including Churchill Falls, is 44 GW). Projections are for over 16 GW of new installations in 2013 and 17 GW and 18 GW for 2014 and 2015 respectively.  China’s unofficial target is 200 GW by 2020, but that may prove an underestimate.

Half million wind sector jobs by 2020

In terms of jobs in the wind energy sector, the projection is that from the 150,000 jobs in China’s wind sector in 2009, the numbers will rise to 500,000 jobs by 2020.

Unfortunately, in its haste to advance its wind and solar energy sectors – from the development of clean energy manufacturing capacity to the construction of wind and solar farms – China “forgot” to invest in corresponding increases in electricity transmission capacity.  Consequently, Chinese electrical grids are not in place to handle all of its new renewable energy production capacity, so 20% of wind production capacity was not connected in 2012.

To remedy the situation, China will build 19 new ultra high voltage lines, but the first two lines will not be ready until 2014.  One of these lines will be 2,000 km long.

China offers green economy to the world

In the interim, with the help of generous state financing from the Chinese Development Bank and other sources, China began dumping its manufacturing surplus of clean energy technologies on global markets.

The US responded to China’s dumping by imposing steep tariffs on China’s clean technologies – up to 250% on some Chinese solar products and up to 26% on Chinese wind turbine towers.

With respect to tariffs and Europe, following sabre rattling to the tune of an 11.8% introductory tariff on Chinese solar imports, effective June 6, 2013, on August 6, the EU decided not to impose planned provisional tariffs averaging 47%.That is, a preliminary truce was worked out on prices and a maximum export volume. Notwithstanding this preliminary agreement, Europe is keeping its options open for new tariff decisions at a later time.

China captures 50% of global solar market, runs into trade wall

Regrettably, up until the aforementioned trade wars, China’s photovoltaic (PV) solar manufacturing sector was almost entirely dedicated to global markets – with hardly any domestic market to speak of. China went from 1% of the global market in 2004 to 50% by 2012 – that is, up to when US and European tariffs eliminated China’s price advantage.

The US and EU tariffs having brought China back to earth, China is now more focused on internal solutions to its temporary surplus in solar manufacturing capacity.

China looks inward for new solar market

One of these internal solutions comes in the form of PV solar energy targets to install 10 GW/year in the 2013-15 period –quite a sharp increase from the total installed PV solar capacity at the end of 2012 at 5 GW. To encourage the private sector to get into the act – 40% of PV projects are represented by private developers – the Chinese government is offering 50% tax breaks for utility scale projects for that period.  As a result, when the figures are in for the year 2013, China will likely be the world’s largest solar market.

What this will mean in terms of  job growth in China’s solar sector may not be known for a while, but it is worth noting that prior to the new policies and targets mentioned above, there were 300,000 jobs in the PV solar sector in 2011.  Another 800,000 Chinese people were employed in the solar heating and cooling sector in that same year.

But since domestic market growth by itself would still not be sufficient to address the solar manufacturing overcapacity and declining overseas demand, China has introduced tax breaks and other measures to encourage Chinese solar manufacturing sector restructuring.  With the cap on exports to Europe – the world’s largest solar market – China has blocked access of its small solar firms to European markets.

Wind, solar to eclipse coal?

Where does all this lead? Well, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) projects that 50% of China’s electricity will come from wind and solar energy by 2030 – roughly equal to that of coal.  A recent story published in the Common Sense Canadian suggested that coal production in China will peak in 2015.  This may suggest that these BNEF projections are too conservative.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

One indicator that these clean energy projections may be too conservative or, at least, not tell the whole story, is China’s own recognition that overarching policies are essential to bring all sectors of the economy on side.  More precisely, in May 2013, China’s National Development and Reform Commission began a process to explore cap and trade options, aiming to have one in place by 2016.

China exploring cap and trade

The review of this option began in June 2013 with the first of seven pilot carbon trading schemes in Shenzhen.  The plan calls for strict  emissions, pollution and energy efficiency standards for the industrial sectors by 2016, backed by stiff penalties for non-compliance.  To assist industry to achieve compliance, loans would be made available to firms to invest in clean technologies.  According to BNEF, if the power sector is faced with a price on carbon, greenhouse gases in China would peak around 2023.

As to why Shenzhen was chosen for China’s first cap and trade pilot, it may well be because that city’s green leadership, particularly in the area of clean transportation alternatives.  To this effect, the city of Shenzhen has established a target to have more than 3,000 electric taxis, 5,000 hybrid and 1,000 electric urban transit buses around by 2015.  Moreover, by 2015, the city will ban all vehicles that fail to meet in advanced emission standards.  Not bad for the city that ranks second to Beijing as having the most vehicles in mainland China.

Warren Buffet joins the party in Shenzen

The audacity of Shenzhen complements that of the Warren Buffet-backed BYD of Shenzhen, which:

  1. has become a world leader in all electric buses
  2. will introduce its e-buses to Canada through pilot projects with the Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO in the Gatineau area) and Société de transport de Montréal (STM)
  3. has introduced its e-buses in a pilot in Frankfurt Germany
  4. built an e-bus and electric car manufacturing plant Sofia, Bulgaria, which began operations in February 2013
  5. is building an e-bus and an Iron-Phosphate energy module (large-scale battery) manufacturing facility in California that will be operational in late 2013.

Canada missing out on green economy

Meanwhile, back in Canada, Stephen Harper continues to present economic development and sustainable development as two opposing policy paths. This is true only as long as all of Canada’s economic eggs are in the old economy and one turns a blind eye as to what’s happening by way of economic paradigm shifts in China, Europe and the US.

Only in Canada – pity!

New coalition revved up about wake boats on public waterways

New coalition revved up about wake boats on public waterways

New coalition revved up about wake boats on public waterways
Not your grandfather’s lake boat: powerful, modern “wake boats” kick up waves and protest

All across Canada, many small communities face great difficulties in trying to establish regulations regarding the protection of navigable waters environments – that is, waters which fall under federal regulatory jurisdiction, The Canada Shipping Act in particular.

Not only are these communities paralysed in their efforts to address the growing numbers of motorized boats on waterways, but they also find themselves helpless to deal with the proliferation of “Hummer” type boats, or wake boats, with their 330 horsepower (HP) to 550 HP engines. The powerful,  destructive waves they generate cause shoreline erosion, damage docks,  make non-motorized boating unpleasant and disturb shoreline enjoyment.

Laws don’t work

Unfortunately, The Canada Shipping Act is an inefficient tool to address the aforementioned challenges, because the Act, which dates back to the early years of Canada, was not conceived to protect the environment.  More precisely, the prime purpose of the Act is to protect the rights of navigators and minimize barriers to navigation.

But the worst part about this Act is that it makes it exceptionally difficult for a local government to obtain federal approval for a new regulatory proposal – up to 5 years from the time a request is made to the moment when a proposal may be approved – and the guidelines on the Act make it abundantly clear that the federal government seeks non-regulatory solutions by way of voluntary codes of conduct.

The latter point is the source of eternal conflict within communities, as they must achieve nearly 100% voluntary adherence to a proposed code of conduct.  Surveys and referendums are not regarded by Transport Canada as a basis for a community to formulate a new regulatory proposal.

Consequently, most communities are not able to follow through to achieve federal regulatory approval.

It is against this legislative backdrop that the matter of the proliferation of wake boats on Canadian waterways has contributed to community dialogues of the deaf over irresolvable conflicts.

New breed of boat

Wake boats are not at all like conventional motor boats. The combination of 1) horsepower ranges similar to those offered for Volvo tractor-trailer trucks and 2) ballasts ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 lbs, produce high, powerful waves, even at modest speeds.

As if this is not enough, the turbidity caused by wake boats churns up sediments and fuel consumption is in the stratosphere. With respect to the latter point, so much for tackling climate change!

For other water bodies, the depth and size of the lake may mean little environmental tolerance for any type of powerful boat.  In BC, on the Shuswap River, the environmental challenges pertain to jet boats navigating up sensitive spawning habitats.  These jet boats can travel upstream at high speeds in very shallow water.

To address the increasing environmental challenges posed by problematic boats,  I was involved in forming the Canadian Coalition on problematic boats, otherwise known as The Coalition – officially created on September 1st in a small Quebec community, St-Faustin-Lac-Carré, Québec.

Coalition calls for legislative changes

In effect, the Coalition wishes to see modifications of two pieces of legislation, the Fisheries Act and the Canada Shipping Act.

With regard to The Fisheries Act, prior to the Harper administration’s changes to it, the Act was a very effective tool to protect marine life habitats.  But in response to a request from the pipeline industry, the Conservatives considerably weakened the protection of the marine habitat.


Accordingly, The Coalition’s objectives entail the modification of both the Shipping Act and the Fisheries Act, plus the linking of the two Acts, in order to make it possible to impose restrictions on certain types of boats, based on impacts on the marine environment and community decisions.

Clear national environmental criteria and local government authorities would be the pillars of the new legislative framework and the concept of voluntary codes of conduct would be abolished.

Of course, to be politically realistic, The Coalition does not have any hopes with the current government. In this regard, it proposes an inter-regional and inter-provincial Coalition to formulate innovative legislative recommendations for the next federal government, in 2015.

As for the rationale for the inter-regional and inter-provincial approach, it is a reflection of the fact that a small community, acting on its own, cannot hope to have sufficient influence to request a change to two Acts and the linking of the two. By contrast, a pan-Canadian Coalition would be hard for any future government to ignore.

For more information on the Coalition, contact author Will Dubitsky directly:


Canada’s Green Economy needs public investment


Both the Intergovernmental Panel and Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have concluded that public policies, rather than the availability of resources, are among the key determinants for a shift from fossil fuels to clean technology development and deployment.  Public banks are critical agents for change along these lines.

Public financial institutions and the green economy around the world

Starting with some of the largest public banks, in July 2013, both the World Bank and the European Investment Bank announced that they will limit to the bare minimum investments in fossil fuel projects, while shifting the lion’s share of their respective energy investments to renewables.

The World Bank’s Jim Yong Kim – the first scientist to head the institution – said it is impossible to tackle poverty without dealing with the effects of a warmer world.  “We need affordable energy to help end poverty and to build shared prosperity. We will also scale-up efforts to increase renewable energy and improve energy efficiency – according to countries’ needs and opportunities.”

Based on perspectives not very different from that of the World Bank, in July 2013, The European Investment Bank (EIB), in line with the current European Union climate policy, announced it will implement new lending criteria that skew heavily towards renewables and screen out nearly all coal and lignite plants.

The significance of the EIB shift is illustrated by the fact that the EIB invests, lends and leverages $13.2B/year for energy initiatives.  The leveraging of EIB investments in turn fosters private financing, especially important for the capital-intensive offshore wind sector.  Many offshore wind projects have benefited from the low cost EIB loans in recent years.

In the UK, the Green Investment Bank, headquartered in Glasgow, was created in 2012 with $3.6B (£3B) in initial capital to carry it through until 2015.  Its mission is to respond to the specific financing challenges of commercial green infrastructure projects by tackling the finance gaps which remain despite the advent of new government policies.  Like the EIB, this mission includes leveraging its investments to bring in other lenders and investors.

To raise additional capital, GIB’s capital base is, and will be, regularly reinforced with pollution permit proceeds and the newly announced carbon tax revenues.  Beginning in the 2014-2015 period, bonds will be issued to raise additional capital.

In Germany, the state bank, kfw, is backing offshore wind development to the tune of $7.2B (5B€).

Meanwhile, the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) has been a key player in making China the world’s largest clean tech player.  In 2012, total investments in renewables was $67.7B, compared to its closest rival, the US, with $56B in investments in that same year.

The CDB is a formidable player, especially because it appears to have no limits on the billions of dollars with which to work.  About 2 years ago, the CDB committed a whopping $45B over 5 years to smart grid development and deployment.  Smart grid platforms are the key to the massive integration of intermittent renewable energy production, such as energy from wind and solar sources, by storing surplus energy for redeployment as required.

More recently, the CDB provided Goldwind, a state-owned wind turbine manufacturer, with $6B to finance international business development.  Similarly, Ming Yang, a smaller Chinese turbine manufacturer, acquired $5B from the CDB for loans and credit facilities between 2011 and 2015 to prepare for its entry into international markets.

This significant CDB support for China’s clean tech sectors has contributed to accusations of global clean tech dumping – specifically from the US and the European Union.  Both the US and the EU have responded to the alleged dumping by imposing steep tariffs on imports of clean tech products from China.

By contrast, Canada has taken an opposite course by being oblivious to the problem of dumping of clean techs by China.  To this effect, the proposed Canada-China trade deal stipulates that there will be no commercial barriers applied to environmental technologies.  Evidently, the Harper regime is prepared to give China what it wants, in order for Canada to sell tar sands oil them.  Either the Harper administration is unaware of the significance of China’s request, it simply does not care, or a combination of both!

Yet another innovative model for public financial institutions to support domestic clean tech manufacturing is that of Brazil’s Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social.  As of January, 2013, Banco Nacional requires that wind turbine manufacturers source 60% of components in Brazil and produce or assemble in Brazil at least 3 of the 4 main wind technology components – towers, blades, nacelles and hubs – between now and 2016.  Under the Banco Nacional model, turbine makers have to meet the staggered manufacturing phases established by the bank, which will be stepped up every six months, until 2016.

Turning to the US, there the US Export-Import Bank, which represents 7 US government agencies, was created to finance renewable energy projects in emerging markets and, most important, to support the US clean tech industry with its requirement for 30% US content.  India, one of the bank’s 9 key markets, accounted for approximately $7B of the its worldwide credit exposure as of the end of fiscal 2011.  Another example of Ex-Im Bank loans was the $1B credit package to fund wind power development in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, in collaboration with the Vietnam Development Bank.

Lastly, there is the pension fund green investment model, such as that established by Denmark’s Dong Energy. Dong is 75% owned by the Government of Denmark and is involved in 30% of all offshore wind projects in the world.  Currently, Dong uses Danish pension funds for its financial activity in offshore wind projects in Denmark and partners with the Japanese trading firm Marubeni for equity financing for projects outside Denmark.

These government and pension fund connections have translated into Dong being a very special kind of energy investor in that 85% of its current portfolio is associated with fossil fuels and 15% renewables – but its mission is to reverse this ratio by 2040.

Canada falling behind

With the examples of the World Bank, the European Investment Bank China, the UK Green Investment Bank, Germany’s kfw, the Chinese Development Bank, the US’ Ex-Im Bank and Brazil’s Banco nacional, showing the way to the effect that publicly funded investment institutions can play critical roles in assuring a migration to renewables and clean techs, the question to raise in Canada is as follows:  Why can’t Canada do similar things via the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada?

Indeed these Canadian investment vehicles offer excellent options for the financing the development of Canada’s clean tech sectors.  The BDC, like the other institutions mentioned in this article, could leverage its venture capital funds to attract additional support from Canada’s private banks and financial cooperatives.  What an excellent way to take on the challenge of reaching US equivalency with regard to 20% of venture capital activity in 2011 and 2012 going to clean tech sectors.

As well, the BDC could take a page from Brazil’s Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social and include Canadian content requirements, thus assuring optimal benefits for Canadian economic development and job creation.  It is  conceivable that BDC-supported local economic development along these lines could fly under the radar of free trade agreements.

As for an approach for supporting Canadian exports of clean technologies, the models described like those of the Chinese Development Bank and the US Export-Import Bank, may be tough acts to follow, since these institutions have billions of dollars to work with. Nevertheless, the fact that the US Ex-Im Bank brings together 7 US national government organizations, suggests this US model could provide some insights for a made-in-Canada model.  For example, if the Canadian International Development Agency would partner with Export Development Canada, the Government of Canada would be able to support the setting up of clean energy micro-grids in isolated communities without necessitating the prohibitively expensive land infrastructure connections to distant, centralized electricity generation plants.

Canada’s pension funds could also have a role to play, along the lines of Denmark’s partially pension-funded Dong Energy. There are Canadian precedents for major investments of pension funds in clean tech sectors.  For instance, in February, 2013, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec – the financial arm for Quebec’s pension fund – invested $757M to purchase half of Dong Energy’s 50% share in the world’s largest offshore wind energy project, the UK’s 850 MW London Array.  Just prior to that, in January, the Caisse purchased $500M in shares of 11 Invenergy wind farms in the US and Canada, representing 1500 MW and including 2 wind projects in Canada, one of which is in Quebec.

This raises a second question: why can’t the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) create a clean tech portfolio to optimize Canadian participation in one of the world’s fastest growing industries for job creation, the clean tech sector?

From my previous dealings with the CPPIB, I know that their answer is that their job is to get the maximum return for pensioners and, consequently, no particular preference is given for Canadian investments. This is faulty logic for 2 reasons.

First, it is not unusual for investment vehicles to be associated with more than one objective.  Second, and most importantly, investments in growth sectors in Canada that offer high-paying jobs would bring additional revenues for the CPPIB in the form of greater contributions from both employers and employees – in addition to the traditional form of returns on investments.   Indeed, from time-to-time, the Caisse has adopted priorities for investments in Quebec with similar motivations.

It can be done

In conclusion: 1) innovative clean technology roles for the BDC and EDC to support and leverage venture capital and finance exports and 2) the creation of a clean tech portfolio for the CPPIB, could both significantly help Canada catch up to its competitors in the global migration to the high-growth and high-job creation green economy, all while making good money in the process.  Earnings from completed projects would in turn finance more projects.  These are opportunities that make good sense for Canada to embrace.

As Jack Layton used to say, “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”

Will Dubitsky worked for the Government of Canada on sustainable development policies, legislation, programs and clean tech innovation projects/consortia. He lives in Quebec.

With Justin Trudeau, Canada now has two Conservative parties

With Justin Trudeau, Canada now has two Conservative parties

With Justin Trudeau, Canada now has two Conservative parties
Christinne Muschi/Reuters

With so many Canadians eagerly awaiting the end of the anti-democratic, unaccountable Harper regime, some seem to be inclined to support any alternative that may stand a chance for replacing the Cons in 2015, after the next federal election.  But maybe we should take a pause to think this through just a little more.  Canadian Idol Trudeau, though he hasn’t said that much so far, has already shown that he shares many of the policy positions of Harper.  This is where things get scary.

With Duffy, Wallin, Wright and Harb making the news, it might seem that now is a good time to call attention to Trudeau not believing in a need for changing the Senate status quo. For Trudeau, it’s just a matter of choosing good Senators – that is to say, the Senate would be improved if Trudeau got to choose Liberal senators instead of Harper choosing Conservative ones.  But these are merely small  distractions from the frightening resemblances between Trudeau and Harper.

Indeed, there are extraordinary similarities between Harper and Trudeau on:

Consider the following:

The Middle Class, Corporate Taxes, Health Care and Trade with China

Justin Trudeau claims to be a champion of the middle class.  Sound good so far?

Well, never before in the history of Canada have inequalities between Canadians been more pronounced.  Thanks to the corporate tax cuts initiated by the Liberals and accelerated by the Conservatives, those with power and money – especially the petroleum industry and the banks – are sitting on $600 billion in liquidity.  The Conservatives tell us we must tighten our belts, that young people have to accept low wages and precarious jobs.  Meanwhile, our cities are clogged for lack of investment in sustainable transit alternatives, etc., because the Conservatives tell us the cupboard is bare.

Yet, Justin Trudeau, self-proclaimed champion of the middle class, has said he will not raise corporate taxes.  When push comes to shove, Liberals like Conservatives, always seem to cede to money and power.

Justin Trudeau thinks there are no money problems associated with health care, just management challenges.  This position is necessary because Trudeau would lead a government short of revenues, thanks to the lowest corporate taxes among G8 nations!  Conservatives couldn’t agree more.  The Cons plan on cutting health care funding within 3 years.  So much for caring about the middle class!

But there is much more middle class stuff that makes the celebrity Prince Trudeau a scary prospect.  A case in point is Justin Trudeau favoured the sale of Nexen to state-controlled Chinese interests because he said it would pave the way to free trade with China, which would in turn pave the way to more prosperity for the middle class.  The Conservatives have said the same thing.  Yet the North American Free Trade Agreement has been around for a long time and middle class revenues/wages are stagnating or going down.  The middle class is being hollowed out.  The required fixes are internal/domestic.

Regarding the aforementioned, proposed Canada-China trade agreement, in response to massive dumping on global markets by China’s clean tech industry, the US has imposed trade tariffs running from 31% to 250% on solar tech imports from China, along with tariffs of 45% to 71% on imports of Chinese wind turbine towers; 2) the European Commission is considering tariffs averaging 47% on solar tech imports for China; and 3) Canada is the only country dumb enough to accept, under the proposed China-Canada agreement, a guaranteed exemption for environmental technologies from commercial barriers.

Guns: an integral part of Canadian culture

Justin Trudeau thinks that guns are an integral part of Canadian culture and that the gun registry was ineffective.  Stephen Harper has similar views.  This, despite the fact that the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs supported the gun registry as: 1) an effective tool for police in the line of duty; 2) regarding the development of evidence related to judicial proceedings.

Environment, submission to the fossil fuel Lobby, Tar Sands, Kinder Morgan and Keystone

Then there’s the matter of the environment. Trudeau and Harper say they favour sustainable development but the legacies of both of their parties suggest otherwise.  Prior to their defeat, the Liberals had several climate change action plans.  They all failed to do the job, because when you got down to the details, their plans were concessions to money and power.  Jean Chrétien promised the petroleum industry that, in the event of a price on carbon, there would be a very affordable ceiling on the price of carbon.  Stéphane Dion came out with his billions for a Climate Fund just before the Martin government was defeated, a fund that would have the government pay the largest emitters to reduce their respective emissions or invest in carbon offsets.  In other words, the more one emits, the more the government would subsidize – a pay-the-polluter principle rather than the polluter pays.  No wonder Canada’s emission levels spiked upwards during the Liberal reign!

Thanks to Conservatives’ narrow focus on accommodating the fossil fuel lobby, Canada is one of the rare developed nations that is not a full participant in one of the greatest job creation areas of our time, the clean tech sectors. China had 1.6 million jobs, and Germany 372,000 jobs in clean tech sectors in 2011.  Today, there are over 500 wind tech manufacturing facilities in the US; wind energy was the largest source of new electrical power generation in the US in 2012; the US solar sector employed 119,000 Americans in 2012; and 20% of US venture capital activity in 2011 and 2012 went towards the US clean tech sectors.  Yet Canada is barely participating in green economy and, the few advancements that are being made, are thanks to provincial policies

What can we expect from Trudeau on environmental matters?  Don’t get your hopes up.  Justin Trudeau has already ceded to power and money by being very vague on environmental matters so as not to offend anyone.  Following the Jean Chrétien model, Boy King Trudeau supports the Keystone pipeline and the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver (to export tar sands oil to Asia), while saying he is a champion of the environment – even though the emissions associated with tar sands-related production for these pipelines would negate any of the Trudeau’s nebulous motherhood notions of being on the side of the environment.

Poor Sense of Priorities: Pot Over the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

More recently, Trudeau has shown his true colours on priorities, with the July 2013 refusal of both the Conservatives and Liberals to interrupt their summer break for the purpose of holding sessions of the Parliamentary committee on Transport to look into the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster that left an estimated 47 people dead.  One doesn’t need to await the report of the Transportation Safety Board to figure out that the Transport Canada approval of the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway request to have only one person operate a train with 72 wagons of dangerous cargo was a stupid decision.

Former Transport Canada employees have said that, under the Harper regime, safety has taken a back seat to corporate profits.  The odds of the tragedy ever happening with 2 people in charge of the train would have been very minimal.  But Trudeau thinks the top message for the lazy, hazy days of summer is about legalizing pot.  Glad to see he has got his priorities right.

Employment insurance

It was the Liberals who started gutting Employment Insurance and the Conservatives have merely followed through.  Justin Trudeau must be counting on the short memory of Canadians.


Wrapping up, juggling complex issues such as taxation fairness, equal opportunity and participation in the global migration to a green economy, health care, day care etc., requires well-thought-out, synergistic policies with real depth.  But both Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau prefer to operate in sound bites and clichés on such matters.  Harper answers all tough questions with, “but it’s the economy.”  As for Trudeau, he simply repeats his aforementioned mantra that he is for the middle class without any references as to what he would do now that income inequalities have reached an historic high and corporate tax revenues aren’t sufficient to do anything meaningful for the middle class.

Unfortunately, you won’t see much of the above-mentioned criticisms in the media.  With very few exceptions, journalists are not interested in the policy details or comparative analyses. The majority of English newspapers in Canada are partisan and represent, first and foremost, corporate Canada, money and power.  Canadians have been criticized by some journalists for falling for a superficial Justin Trudeau brand, but the reasons for this can, in part, be found in the lack of depth by the journalists making such criticisms.

Once again, the Liberals are presenting themselves as the best option to address their own poor legacy.

With Trudeau at the helm, Canada now has two Conservative parties.

Canada's embarassing green jobs record

Canada’s embarrassing green jobs record

Canada's embarassing green jobs record
Unlike Canada, Germany is a world-leader in renewable energy development

The real-life global competition over clean energy is growing increasingly intense, as countries around the world sense a huge economic opportunity and the opportunity for cleaner air, water, and a healthier planet.

– Former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, May, 2012

The current Conservative government wants Canadians to believe that economic development and sustainable development are opposing forces. Consequently, Conservatives see their Bills C-38 and C-45, with  draconian anti-environmental components, as justified. Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, the clean tech is among the globe’s fastest growing and highest job-creating sectors. In 2012, global investments in renewable energy amounted to $268.7B – down from $302.3B in 2011 due to decline in prices and costs, policy uncertainty in the US, and European economic woes.

China led the way with $67.7B in clean energy investments in 2012, an increase of 20% over the previous year, due to a surge in its solar tech sector. Investments in 2012 for the US, Japan and Germany were $42.2B, $16.3B and $22.8B respectively.


On jobs, the employment to date in these sectors that only a few years ago were nascent sectors are extraordinary. The total global numbers of jobs in 2011 in clean energy sectors were 5M with China, once again leading the way with 1.6M, followed by Europe with 1.1M and Germany and India with 372,000 and 350,000 respectively.

Canada, as a result of the absence of adequate federal support for being a full participant in this growth misses out on job opportunities by the 1000’s every year and the gap between Canada and other developed nations grows yearly.

For a sense of lost employment opportunities for Canadians, the November 2012 report of BlueGreen Canada, an organization that represents unions and environmentalists, indicated that if the $1.3B in subsidies allocated to the oil and gas sector which currently supports 2,300 jobs were to be transferred to renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transit, this same amount of money would create 18,000-20,000 jobs in clean energy sectors – 6 to 8 times more jobs per investment unit.

Behind the aforementioned growth figures lies the fact that the point of departure for much of this leadership by other nations is government support for innovation. Specifically, innovation leads to product development and ultimately manufacturing jobs. However, the Conservative Budget 2013-2014, for the first time in over 40 years, did not assign any financing for clean tech innovation – zero!

To catch up, Canada’s requires a highly aggressive climate change action plan that includes substantive fiscal, legislative, program and research components for immediate implementation after the next federal election in 2015. Put another way, Canada’s catching up to the rest of the world should not focus principally a dependency on clean tech imports and the sacrificing of the potential for domestic clean tech innovation and manufacturing in Canada.


In 2009, China became the largest single energy consumer in the world, putting the US in second place. But, since then, China has also become the largest clean energy market in the world and a leader in the manufacturing of clean technologies for both domestic and international markets.

While thermal coal-fired generating plants continued to dominate new installations of electrical power generation, with 50.7 GW in 2012, wind energy came in second with a record 13.2 GW added. Total 2012 installed wind capacity was 67.7 GW and the installed projections are for 2020 are 200 GW. (Note, for comparative purposes, Quebec’s total electricity capacity is 37 GW, not including Churchill).

From the 150,000 jobs in the Chinese wind sector in 2009, the projections for 2020 in this sector are 500,000 jobs.

With respect to solar energy, there are 14 GW in the pipeline. China had 300,000 people who worked in the photovoltaic sector and  800,000 employed in solar heating/cooling in 2011. Projections for total installed solar capacity for 2020 are on the order of 50 GW.

The United States

The US is the second largest clean tech market and, consequently, its energy portrait is changing rapidly. Wind was the largest new source of electrical power generation in 2012 with 13.1 GW of new installations, bringing the total US installed capacity to 60 GW.

This US migration to a green economy was kick-started with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which pumped $70B into the green economy – including major investments in innovation – during the 2009 to 2011 period, the first half of the first Obama mandate. Grants, tax credits loans, loan guarantees and investments in research were among the principle mechanisms applied during the 2009-2011 period. Republicans have since put the brakes on this; nevertheless, a strong momentum has been established.

There are about 75,000 people working in the US wind sector and over 500 facilities manufacturing turbine components. There were about 119,000 jobs in the US solar in 2012, a 13% increase over 2011 and the biomass and geothermal sectors provided 152,000 and 10,000 jobs respectively in 2011. When one adds the sum of the various parts of the renewable energy sectors, renewable energy capacity in the US doubled in the 5 years from 2008 to 2012.

Meanwhile, in parallel, between 2007 and 2012, oil consumption as a percentage of total US energy consumption dropped from 39.3% to 36.7%. As well, the consumption of coal has dropped from 22.5% of total US energy consumption in 2007 to 18.1% in 2012.

The impacts of the above-mentioned factors combined with investments in energy efficiency by power utilities and improved average fuel consumption of US vehicles, have resulted in a 13% drop in US CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2012.

In his late June 2013 statement on new actions on climate Change, President Obama announced an objective of a reduction of 3B metric tons by 2030. Unfortunately, the new support proposed for clean energy in his pronouncements was very modest.

The good news is that President Obama announced that the process for approving clean energy production and distribution on federal lands would be accelerated. This is good because federal lands represent 20% of the US continental land mass. The bad news is the June 2013 proposals are in effect an accelerated version a Department of the Interior mandate assigned during the ARRA 2009-2011 period. No details have been provided as to the nature of initiatives to speed up DOI approvals.

Disappointing in the June 2013 action plan, is the lion’s share of new funding, $8B, is to be allocated to technologies to reduce fossil fuel emissions, in particular to support carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS).  CCS technologies are prohibitively expensive and consume enormous amounts of energy while only offering modest carbon reduction.

Short time line extensions from the ARRA days are 1) the Investment Tax Credit of 30% on investments, primarily applied for the construction of solar farms and 2) the Production Tax Credit of 2.2 cents/kWh used mainly by wind farm developers.


In Europe, renewable energy represented 69% of new electrical power capacity installed in 2012 while the oil, coal and nuclear sectors experienced negative growth.

There were 11.6 GW of wind power installed in 2012, bringing the total installed capacity in 2012 to 105.6 GW. Wind is expected to reach 136.5 GW by 2014 and 230 GW of installed capacity by 2020.

Solar installations surpassed wind in 2012 with 21 GW of installations, representing one quarter of 2012 global solar installations in that year.

This rapid growth of the European renewable sectors is generating equally rapid employment growth. From 192,000 jobs in Europe’s wind sector in 2009, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA)  is predicting  280,000 jobs in 2015 and 450,000 by 2020. So quickly is the industry growing that despite the exceptionally high unemployment in many parts of Europe, the EWEA estimates that the industry will experience a skilled labour shortage of 5500 jobs/year.

Germany is a leader among European nations with about 372,000 jobs in its renewable energy sectors for the year 2011. That’s bigger than the German auto industry. By 2020, the projections are for 400,000 to 500,000 employed in the renewable sectors.


In parallel, Germany’s nuclear sector is on the way out – a consequence of the Fukushima crisis. Germany has shut down 8 of its nuclear plants and intends to shut down the remaining 9 by 2022.

Germany’s installed wind capacity was 31.3 GW in 2012, representing 30% of the European Union total. Its installed capacity of solar energy in 2012 reached 32 GW, making it the second largest solar market in the world after China. With respect to its renewables targets for the percentage of total energy consumption by 2020 (including the transportation sector), Germany has a higher target than the 20% target of the European Union. Germany is going for 35% and offshore wind will play a major role in pursuing this target. To this end, the German development bank, kfw will be backing offshore wind development with $7.2B (€5B) in financing.


The US, Europe, China and other developed nations are well-engaged in the migration to a green economy – from supporting domestic innovation; to the construction of green technology manufacturing plants; to the development of clean energy production sites; and more generally, to the expansion of national and international markets.

These developments continue to give rise to the creation of jobs by the thousands in most regions of the developed world – with the exception of Canada. They also offer hope for developing countries, where more than 50% of the global potential for renewable energy power production exists.

Conversely, all the evidence indicates that the old model – the fossil fuel-based economy – no longer makes sense. The old model not only requires massive dependencies on importing energy and the resulting exportation and concentration of energy wealth, but it is also not good for the planet. Surely a healthy economy cannot exist in a planet that cannot sustain healthy life.

For at least the next 2 and a half years, until the federal election of 2015, Canada will largely miss out on the global green economy opportunities, both in terms of spreading the energy-related wealth across the country and in terms of green technology market possibilities, domestic and export markets alike.

Perhaps more importantly, under the present circumstances, Canadian innovation capabilities cannot be adequately supported to keep pace with the rest of the world and ultimately offer Canada high-job creating manufacturing and export opportunities.

In a recent special report on renewables to the United Nations, the International Panel on Climate Change concluded that public policies, rather than the availability of the resource, are the key determinants regarding expansion or constraints to renewable energy development/deployment. In its June 2013 report, the International Energy Agency came to similar conclusions and added that uncertainty about renewable policies may hamper investment and growth.

In other words, the extent to which nations benefit from the high job-creating clean tech sectors, while reducing emissions, is a matter of political will. There certainly are no lack of possibilities for those who choose to be a part of the solution, in light of the fact that less than 2.5% of the globally available technical potential for renewables is currently exploited – leaving over 97 % untapped.

Indeed, the technical potential of renewable energy technologies exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount. Meanwhile, the prices of clean technologies have declined considerably.


EcoEnergy money went to Carbon Capture, Tar Sands – No Clean Tech funding for this year


Last month’s announcement by Stephen Harper of EcoEnergy Innovation Initiative recipients and other Government of Canada investments in clean tech provided an excellent example of false and misleading information coming straight from the Prime Minister’s Office.

First, the EcoEnergy Innovation Initiative call for statements of interest came in the form of regional launches across Canada in September 2011. The deadline for submissions of statements of interest for one part of the program was just two weeks after the launches, the second part in mid-October 2011.

While those who have had their projects approved were advised to this effect 2 years ago, the Prime Minister made the official announcementof approved projects on May 3, 2013, to purposely mislead the public to the effect that the government is doing something now. But there is no new funding for clean tech innovation in 2013-2014 – zero!

Note, as well, that 30% of the EcoEnergy Innovation Initiative funding awarded — $24.942M out of the total $82M — went to carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, the greenwashing technologies to make it appear that the fossil fuel industry has the environment at heart. Also, $8.826M, or 11% of all funding, went to tar sands projects.

As for the merits of CCS, according to this article from La Presse: 1) one third of the energy produced by a pilot CCS application to a coal-fired generating unit of the Boundary Dam facility in Saskatchewan is necessary to run the CCS component; 2) TransAlta, despite $800M in funding from Ottawa, abandoned its CCS project in Pioneer, Alberta.

Further on recent investments in clean tech, note that:

1) Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which averaged $56.4M/year in investments in clean tech innovation in the past, was allocated in the last Budget only $1M for 2013-2014 and $12M for 2014-2015;.

2) Obama recently announced an increase in clean tech research funding by 30% to reach $7.9B and an acceleration of the permitting approval process for renewable energy production and distribution projects on federal lands – federal lands make up 20% of the continental US land mass;

3) in August 2012, the Government of China announced financial commitments up to the year 2015 in the amount of $372B for emissions and pollution reductions and energy efficiency. This complements the $67.7B in investments in clean techs in China for the year 2012; and

4) the global totals for clean tech investments in 2011 and 2012 respectively were $302.3B and $268.7B, the drop in investments in 2012 in part a reflection of the decline in clean tech prices, policy uncertainty in the US and European economic woes.

Will Dubitsky worked for the Government of Canada on sustainable development policies, legislation, programs and clean tech innovation projects/consortia. He lives in Quebec.