The Honorable Jonathan Wilkinson addresses the Oakville Chamber of Commerce
The honorable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change spoke to the Oakville Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, April 27, about Canada’s plans to address environmental challenges and the impact of those plans on Canadian businesses and the economy as a whole.
Jonathan Wilkinson is a Rhodes Scholar and former cleantech entrepreneur and has worked extensively in the private and public sectors. Raised in Saskatchewan, he now resides in North Vancouver and represents that constituency in Parliament.
Mr. Wilkinson spoke enthusiastically and optimistically about Canada’s role in joining the international effort to meet the challenges of a changing climate. He also answered questions from former Oakville Chamber of Commerce president Tim Caddigan.
Citing Canada’s commitments to Paris Agreement on climate change, Wilkinson made a point of emphasizing that, like many other countries, Canada recognizes these commitments as the minimum that a country must adhere to. If all countries only fulfilled their commitments under the agreement, global average annual temperatures would rise by 3.5 degrees, which he said would be “catastrophic.”
Canada recently announced its commitment to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45% by 2030 with a view to achieving net zero (where all of these emissions are either eliminated, captured or offset by equivalent increases in natural sequestration) by 2050.
This level of reduction is lower than that committed by our main trading partner, the United States, and lower than that of many other large countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany. The difference recognizes the link between the Canadian economy and the extraction of energy resources such as oil and natural gas, which are reflected in Canada’s scorecard even though they may be exported in response to demand from others. country.
Mr. Wilkinson pointed out that by doing this, Canada is looking to the world. More than 190 countries have signed the Paris Agreement and many other advanced economies have set targets to significantly exceed it. Global capital is moving fast to finance the green transition. The needs of the clean economy will drive economic demand, and Canada must participate to thrive in this rapidly changing environment.
Canada is well positioned to do this, as it is home to many of the raw materials the green economy needs and a highly educated and innovative population. “We all have a common interest in this,” and Canada must adapt to prosper while doing its part.
The goal of Canada’s climate plan is to achieve net zero value while providing certainty for businesses and clarity for investors, to ensure that the country has the information it needs to respond effectively. so that Canada can prosper economically and take full advantage of the opportunities that this presents.
This is such a critical phase in preparing Canada for the future that Mr. Wilkinson and his department have worked to produce what they believe to be perhaps “the most detailed, clearest and most comprehensive plan. the most concrete way to switch to the green economy everywhere in the world ”. The plan, he said, is designed to meet and exceed the targets that have been set while spurring economic growth.
Despite his experience in the private sector, Wilkinson made it clear that government has an important role to play in helping industry and consumers see future opportunities and position themselves to lead the Canadian economy to prosperity during the transition. In its own words, the plan is a “plan for an economy of the future while doing our part in the face of a global environmental crisis.”
$ 17.6 billion has been committed to green jobs through incentives for home improvement, transportation and methane reduction. Canadian citizens contribute to greenhouse gases in large part through their transportation and housing needs. There will be subsidies for zero emission vehicles and subsidies for public transit. There is also a clear path to deal with the impact of large industrial emitters.
The outgoing Speaker of the House, Tim Caddigan, did not hesitate to ask his questions. Why, he asked, should we have any faith in these plans when every government, for several years now, has set targets much lower than these and missed them?
Mr. Wilkinson admitted that the proof would be in the pudding. He highlighted the government’s substantial achievements so far, including investing $ 5 billion in the Net Zero Accelerator fund for projects such as the one that helped Ford Motor Company of Canada retool its assembly plant. Oakville for electric vehicles last year. He also cited the real economic incentive for change created by the carbon tax and rebate program, recently validated at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Mr. Caddigan then challenged Mr. Wilkinson on the impact that the efforts of Canada and other advanced countries could have in the face of increasing emissions from the newly industrialized world. Mr. Wilkinson referred to the recent partnership announced by the United States and India to phase out coal in that country. He also stressed that China is committed to achieving a net zero goal by 2060, in line with its Paris commitment, which considers its economy still developing. China’s support for coal in Africa through its Belt and Road Initiative has not taken place.
Mr Wilkinson’s confidence in the plan was also questioned by Mr Caddigan, who pointed to the high costs of alternative technologies to current fossil-fueled technologies. Mr Wilkinson pointed to the dramatic drop in solar power costs as an example of how the cost curve for new technologies starts off at a high level, but drops rapidly once development costs have been paid.
He cited the government’s efforts through grants to ensure that these technologies could compete effectively during their initial low-cost, low-volume deployments. (Another government move will be to offset costly industrial premiums for green technologies so that big industry does not make additional investments in high-carbon options.) He praised British Columbia as the leader. leader in Canada by adding to the federal electric vehicle rebate with its own provincial rebate, which has enabled more than 10% of new cars in British Columbia to be electric vehicles already, and expressed hope that d other provinces would follow suit.
The federal government is responsible for Canada’s international commitments and must encourage the provinces to align with these targets. Nova Scotia and Quebec also lead the other Canadian provinces.
On the electric vehicle side, Mr. Caddigan asked about range anxiety associated with electric cars. According to the minister, Petro Canada is installing charging stations at its gas stations, and the government is investing $ 250 million in charging to get rid of this problem. Mr Wilkinson pointed out that as an electric vehicle owner he appreciated the convenience of charging at home and starting each morning with a full “tank”.
Outside of climate initiatives, Mr Caddigan challenged Mr Wilkinson on the issue of plastic waste, which he said is of growing concern as consumers learn that much of what they put in the blue box ends up in landfills. Mr Wilkinson enthusiastically agreed, citing the impact of plastic on marine biodiversity and the health risks to all species, including humans, from microplastics in our waters.
The government’s goal is to keep plastic in the economy but out of the environment, he said. Some single-use plastics for which there are readily available alternatives have been banned, but the key to reducing the environmental impact is the responsibility of the producer.
The government is working on structures and incentives to change product design, including requirements to use more recycled plastic and that products must be designed with recycling in mind. All of this, he said, will have to be done in a way that does not disadvantage domestic Canadian suppliers.
The general impression that emerges from the speech and question period is that the government takes the issue very seriously and has rational plans to navigate what will amount to a radical change in our economy. While, of course, public service policies, regulations and incentives are emerging, Wilkinson has left the impression that he is very familiar with the issues facing his department and is exercising good judgment and economic realism to define the direction of this important portfolio.
If leadership sets the direction and management gets it, Mr. Wilkinson has instilled confidence that despite many failures on this file in the past, clear, concrete and detailed plans are now being implemented and practical tools that can have a real impact are put in place. support. He also said the government understands the scale of the economic disruption this represents. He is investing in recycling and transition gateways for individuals and businesses for what he has called the most significant economic opportunity that has been presented to Canada in decades.