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NDP's Billion Dollar Idea to Green BC's Economy

Wary support from some enviros. Too risky say Libs.

By Andrew MacLeod 12 Feb 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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NDP's Shane Simpson: 'pretty big piece.'

*Story updated at 2:37 p.m., Feb. 12, 2009

The NDP is announcing plans for a $1-billion-a-year green bond this morning, but critics say it will take more than that to fight climate change and restore the party's environmental image.

"The purpose for this is to find a way to engage British Columbians in the fight against climate change," the NDP's environment critic Shane Simpson told The Tyee in an interview yesterday. It will also help the province transition to a green economy, he said. "It's going to be committed to green investment in British Columbia."

The bonds will raise money from B.C. investors and pay a competitive interest rate, he said. The money will be used to provide loans for home and business retrofits, greening public infrastructure, improving public transportation and investing in green technology.

The bonds are a "pretty big piece" of the party's environmental platform, he said. "We'll be making additional announcements on the four or five core pieces of the plan as we flesh out the detail of each of those pieces and what that means."

During the federal election last fall, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion advocated a similar idea to finance clean-energy projects and NDP leader Jack Layton announced plans for a bond to fight climate change.

'A good step': Suzuki's Bruce

There will be further announcements on the B.C. New Democrats' transit plan, infrastructure spending and green technology fund, Simpson said.

The platform is more substantial than what the B.C. Liberals are delivering, he said. "This compares up against $14 billion unfunded transit plans and $3 billion bridges and $365 million roofs for sports facilities."

When Premier Gordon Campbell rolled out his carbon tax last year, the David Suzuki Foundation's climate change specialist Ian Bruce was in the legislative buildings to talk about it. This morning, he heard about the NDP's green bond idea on the radio news and was still getting the details.

"In general it sounds like a good idea," he said. "It's a good step, but we're still yet to see a comprehensive climate change plan come from the NDP."

If the party was serious about climate change, they'd support a carbon tax, he said. "One of the foundations for any climate change plan is putting a price on carbon emissions," he said. "To date it has been a lot of misinformation [from the NDP], particularly on the B.C. carbon tax they've been focused on."

More needed on climate change: Greens' Sterk

"It could be an exciting initiative," said Green Party leader Jane Sterk. "I do think municipal bonds around issues like this might be a way to reform the economy into a way that's more environmentally sustainable."

While she's happy to give credit where it's due and champion the best ideas, Sterk said, the NDP has a long way to go on the environment. "I think one policy doesn't make an environmental platform," she said.

"They for the most part are opportunistic. I don't think they have a principled stance, and we do."

Voters who think the environment is important will vote for the Green Party, she said. "The Green Party platform is the only one that understands the serious ramifications of climate change."

Some 18 months ago, the NDP announced they were consulting on developing a climate change plan. It's yet to be publicly presented, Bruce said. "We're hoping to see their plan in the coming few weeks."

'Axe the gas tax' hasn't hurt NDP: Simpson

Simpson said the NDP's opposition to Campbell's "just for show" carbon tax, which would have had to be much, much larger to be effective, has not harmed the party politically.

"By the time we get to the election, we will have laid out the other components of our plan and we'll be wedding those to our economic plan," he said. "I think we'll see by the time we get to the election we will pretty much own the environmental issue again.

"I'm pretty confident that when we ask people to measure up what we're saying about the environment and the economy and how they come together, and what Gordon Campbell is saying, we'll be just fine."

In a press release today, B.C. Liberal Finance Minister Colin Hansen dismissed the new bond proposal from the New Democrats: "We saw the NDP do this in the 1990s with BC Saving Bonds and it was a financial disaster. This new scheme might be repackaged with a fancy new bow but the risk to the province is simply too great a price to pay."

B.C. Savings Bonds were in fact launched in 1988 by the then Social Credit government.*

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