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Only a far-reaching climate plan will transform the Canadian economy – iPolitics.ca

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As hope for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic grows with encouraging news about vaccines, the Liberal government will increasingly turn its attention to recovery, and its promise to make climate change a central focus of the economy’s rebuilding.

Last month, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson tabled legislation that will enshrine the governments goal of making Canada a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2050. However, while setting an ambitious target is one thing, meeting it is quite another.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeaus government is now at a critical juncture, even as he’s hemmed in by Conservative premiers who resist his climate-change agenda.

The Liberals can either continue the slow march with targeted and modest actions, or implement a far-reaching climate plan that will transform the Canadian economy and position it to prosper in a zero-carbon world.   

To reach that more ambitious goal, the government will have to kickstart the effort with a stimulus plan that plows tens of billions of dollars into clean-energy programs. But the Trudeau government will also have to go far beyond the frequently heard calls for public spending on high-profile energy projects. 

It will need the entire government to adopt a climate lens, as opposed to its current practice of creating boutique programs in departments such as Agriculture; Natural Resources; or Innovation, Science and Economic Development, while the rest of the bureaucracy carries on with business as usual.   

The prime minister is unlikely to get much help from key provinces, as he did in 2016, when federal, provincial and territorial governments hammered out the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. However, Ottawa can forge partnerships with municipalities — and with the private sector, which is far more committed to action than it was four years ago.

The enormous impact of capital markets could dwarf the public-sector effort to effect a zero-carbon transformation. To harness it, the government must step up and lead the effort to enshrine the principles of sustainable finance that properly value the risks and opportunities arising from the growing climate crisis and the global response to it.

In responding to the pandemic this year, the federal government delayed much of its climate-change agenda. It focused instead on providing financial support to individuals and businesses, including the oil industry, which was struggling before the pandemic and has been clobbered by the resulting global drop in demand for crude.  

In a November report, the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development said Canada, along with other Group of 20 industrialized countries, doubled downon its fossil-fuel subsidies this year, despite long-standing promises to end them. It rated Canadas record of fossil-fuel subsidies between 2016 and 2019 very poor.

EnergyPolicyTracker.org, which is produced by two European non-government organizations, calculated that, as of Nov. 18, Canada had provided some $18.6 billion in conditional and unconditional support to the fossil-fuel sector, and only $14.6 billion to support clean energy. It characterized as conditional supportthe $2.4 billion that Ottawa spent on cleaning up abandoned oil wells and helping industry reduce methane emissions.

Meanwhile, the Liberal governments lobbying of president-elect Joe Biden to approve the Keystone XL pipeline sends a clear message that, despite its public promise of net-zero emissions by 2050, Ottawa remains committed to building fossil-fuel infrastructure whose normal lifespan is around 30 years.

So what would an ambitious, climate-focused recovery plan look like?

For starters, it would be securely anchored in the governments commitment to exceed its existing target under the Paris Agreement to reduce GHGs by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. It must also be rooted in a just transition,with education, training, and other support to ensure individual Canadians — oil-industry workers, Indigenous people, and others who are already disadvantaged in the current economy — dont fall further behind. 

It would allocate billions of dollars annually over several years on a range of clean-energy programs. The Task Force for a Resilient Recovery — a group largely drawn from think tanks, with some business members — says $55.4 billion should be spent over five years on clean-energy infrastructure, building retrofits, electric-vehicle infrastructure, nature-based programs, and the production and adoption of clean technology across the economy.

A bold plan would involve the federal government spending its vast procurement budget on incentives for companies to adopt clean-tech solutions to lower their own GHG emissions, and, just as important, to commercialize and drive down the cost of innovative technologies.

As mentioned, it would embrace principles of sustainable finance, and make it clear to corporate directors, and managers of public-sector pension plans, that they have a fiduciary duty — that is, a legal obligation — to ensure their organizations are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem in the climate emergency.

The response to the COVID pandemic around the world demonstrates the power of collective action when governments and the private sector collaborate. Witness the unprecedented speed of vaccine development. It also shows the tragic results that occur when leaders ignore the science and refuse to take tough action in the face of a crisis.

The Liberal governments actions over the next several months will tell whether it has the guts to lead, or will content itself with lofty promises unmatched by bold action.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

This article originally appeared in the iPolitics Holiday Magazine published earlier this month.

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Economy

Canadian retail sales slide in April, May as COVID-19 shutdown bites

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december retail sales

Canadian retail sales plunged in April and May, as shops and other businesses were shuttered amid a third wave of COVID-19 infections, Statistics Canada data showed on Wednesday.

Retail trade fell 5.7% in April, the sharpest decline in a year, missing analyst forecasts of a 5.0% drop. In a preliminary estimate, Statscan said May retail sales likely fell by 3.2% as store closures dragged on.

“April showers brought no May flowers for Canadian retailers this year,” Royce Mendes, senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said in a note.

Statscan said that 5.0% of retailers were closed at some point in April. The average length of the closure was one day, it said, citing respondent feedback.

Sales decreased in nine of the 11 subsectors, while core sales, which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicles, were down 7.6% in April.

Clothing and accessory store sales fell 28.6%, with sales at building material and garden equipment stores falling for the first time in nine months, by 10.4%.

“These results continue to suggest that the Bank of Canada is too optimistic on the growth outlook for the second quarter, even if there is a solid rebound occurring now in June,” Mendes said.

The central bank said in April that it expects Canada’s economy to grow 6.5% in 2021 and signaled interest rates could begin to rise in the second half of 2022.

The Canadian dollar held on to earlier gains after the data, trading up 0.3% at 1.2271 to the greenback, or 81.49 U.S. cents.

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa, additional reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto, editing by Alexander Smith)

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Economy

Canadian dollar notches a 6-day high

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Canadian dollar

The Canadian dollar strengthened for a third day against its U.S. counterpart on Wednesday, as oil prices rose and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reassured markets that the central bank is not rushing to hike rates.

Markets were rattled last week when the Fed shifted to more hawkish guidance. But Powell on Tuesday said the economic recovery required more time before any tapering of stimulus and higher borrowing costs are appropriate, helping Wall Street recoup last week’s decline.

Canada is a major producer of commodities, including oil, so its economy is highly geared to the economic cycle.

Brent crude rose above $75 a barrel, reaching its highest since late 2018, after an industry report on U.S. crude inventories reinforced views of a tightening market as travel picks up in Europe and North America.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.3% higher at 1.2271 to the greenback, or 81.49 U.S. cents, after touching its strongest level since last Thursday at 1.2265.

The currency also gained ground on Monday and Tuesday, clawing back some of its decline from last week.

Canadian retail sales fell by 5.7% in April from March as provincial governments put in place restrictions to tackle a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada said. A flash estimate showed sales down 3.2% in May.

Still, the Bank of Canada expects consumer spending to lead a strong rebound in the domestic economy as vaccinations climb and containment measures ease.

Canadian government bond yields were mixed across a steeper curve, with the 10-year up nearly 1 basis point at 1.416%. Last Friday, it touched a 3-1/2-month low at 1.364%.

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Economy

Toronto Stock Exchange higher at open as energy stocks gain

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Toronto Stock Exchange edged higher at open on Wednesday as heavyweight energy stocks advanced, while data showing a plunge in domestic retail sales in April and May capped the gains.

* At 9:30 a.m. ET (13:30 GMT), the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was up 16.77 points, or 0.08%, at 20,217.42.

(Reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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