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Labour + Industry

In Canada, a Push for Obama-style Green Stimulus

PM to get plan backed by 850,000 group members.

Linda Solomon 20 Jan

Linda Solomon is a regular contributor to the Tyee and publishes the Vancouver Observer e-zine.

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Will US revamp leave us behind?

*Story updated at 4:25 p.m., Jan. 20.

A new proposal for a sweeping green economic stimulus plan is landing with a loud thump on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's desk days before he unveils his federal budget.

Why a loud thump? The proposal for a Green Economy Action Fund is backed by unions, environmental organizations and other Canadian civil society groups with a combined membership of over 850,000 people.

The plan calls for $22.7 billion in federal investments and $18.6 billion in low-interest loans to stimulate the green economy and catalyze provincial action. Dollars would flow to retrofit buildings, ramp up renewable energy, expand public transit and support clean-tech manufacturing.*

Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman says Canada risks being left behind by a United States committed to greening its economy under the leadership of new president Barack Obama, to be sworn into office today.

"Across the country today people are going to be glued to their screens watching the Obama inauguration and the question that I have is how do we create the scale of change that we're seeing in the United States in Canada?" said Berman, who is executive director of PowerUp Canada, the climate change advocacy group that spearheaded the plan.

"I think that if this government were to put forward a proposal for a green economic stimulus that was as far reaching as what the Obama administration is proposing, we would see similar engagement and excitement from Canadians across this country," Berman told The Tyee.

Steelworkers back idea

"The Green Economy Action Fund can help Canada meet its environmental responsibilities, position Canada as a leader in an emerging area of the economy, and create good quality jobs," said Ken Neumann, national director for Canada of the United Steelworkers. "This could be an important part of an overall strategy to help Canadians cope with today's financial and economic crisis."

The list of signatories supporting the Green Economy Action Fund and calling for the government to address global warming and the green stimulus in the upcoming budget include: Canadian Association of 45Plus (CARP), United Steelworkers, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Pembina Institute, Environmental Defence, ForestEthics and the Forest Products Association of Canada.

The proposal is also supported by internationally recognized climate scientist Andrew Weaver, and sustainability expert Thomas Homer-Dixon.

"PowerUp Canada has advanced a clean economy stimulus package that is intelligent, economically prudent and aligns Canada with leading countries internationally that are engaging in meaningful economic stimulus through innovative 'green' initiatives," said Ross Mayot, vice president of community development for CARP, Canada's association for the 45 and older.

Inspired by Obama

The group pointed to Barack Obama's stimulus package that includes plans to double the production of renewable energy in the next three years, modernize 75 per cent of federal buildings, upgrade two million homes and create manufacturing jobs in clean-tech manufacturing.

In addition to Obama's approach, the group pointed to appeals by the United Nations for a global "Green New Deal," and the example of Germany where the renewable energy sector has created a quarter million jobs and is poised to become the country's largest employer.

Two other countries on the list are the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown has unleashed an "army" of workers to insulate and retrofit the country's buildings, and Japan, which has plans to create one million additional green manufacturing jobs.

"This should be a no-brainer," said Rick Smith of Environmental Defence. "There are jobs just waiting to be created and businesses poised to grow. Green stimulus will fight recession and global warming at the same time."

Advocates for the fund are calling on Canadians to contact their MP in support of green stimulus.

Canada left behind?

Berman told The Tyee that she hopes the joint action will stimulate a discussion in Canada on ensuring that Canada is not left behind in the push for green stimulus. "We've heard very little so far on a comprehensive green economy approach to this budget. And there are tremendous opportunities for Canada to be creating green jobs and stimulating the economy and a leader in the addressing climate change.

"The question is whether next week Canada is going to be saying 'yes, we can,' or 'no, we can't,'" Berman said. "Barak Obama is planning millions of green jobs, why should Canada be left behind?"

Berman considers "highlights" of Obama's stimulus to be "five million new jobs, largely in the green economy. An $11 billion investment in a smart grid. Ten billion dollars of public transit investment. And loan guarantees for renewable energy of $8 billion dollars. He's saying that they're going to double the production of renewable energy in the next three years."

Berman said the Green Economy Action Fund is based on Obama's effort, "harmonized" for Canada's population and other variables. Estimating the number of new jobs it would create in Canada is tricky, she said, but half a million would correlate with what Obama aims to accomplish.*

"There is no question that Canada is poised and has the capacity to take advantage of the move to renewable energy," said Berman, who asserts that wind and solar energy production hold huge potential for shifting Canada to a low carbon economy. "The technology is all there. It's crazy right now, we have proposals for wind energy in Ontario and they're going to be importing windmills. Why aren't we making them here?"

'We don't have time to wait'

The Green Economy Action Fund offers ways to create incentives and long term economic stability for renewable energy producers, she said.

Berman wonders whether the Harper government can afford to ignore the support building for green economic stimulus, especially given the Obama example to the south.

"I think that the same excitement and the same passion and potential exist in Canada. What it's begging for is courage and leadership from our elected officials."

"We don't have time to wait for some charismatic leader or another election. All Canadians regardless of their political affiliation need to work together today to address the economic crisis and the growing threat of global warming," said Berman. "We simply don't have time to wait."

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