Last spring, when Canadians came together to call for a green and just recovery from COVID-19, few of us imagined we’d still be living under pandemic restrictions nearly a year later.
Early on, it was obvious that COVID-19 would cause unprecedented economic disruption, alongside its health impacts. While we yearned to go back to “normal,” we also saw an opportunity, and need, to build back better. Amid talk of a federal stimulus package, hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions, wrote personalized letters, made art and joined in webinars and online meetings to consider how recovery measures could set us on a path to a sustainable, resilient and equitable future after the pandemic was under control.
Now, deep into the COVID winter, the pandemic continues to take a heavy toll. But just as we’re seeing light at the end of tunnel with vaccine rollout, we’re also seeing encouraging signs that the federal government is hearing the call for a green and just recovery.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently directed Canada’s finance minister to create a recovery plan that includes “actions to transition to a greener, more inclusive and more prosperous economy.”
The government is now mapping out a $100-billion recovery plan. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address urgent economic needs while transforming our communities with strategic investments in climate action, nature and re-orienting the economy to generate well-being.
But it’s not a done deal.
In its September 2020 throne speech, the government pledged that climate action would be “a cornerstone” of a one million jobs plan. The speech also stated, “This pandemic has reminded Canadians of the importance of nature,” and reiterated the government’s pre-pandemic commitment to protecting 25 per cent of Canada’s land and oceans by 2025, and planting two billion trees.
The throne speech was an encouraging signal of the government’s priorities, but it alone won’t make the money flow.
More specific measures were announced at the end of 2020 with the fall economic statement — sometimes referred to as a “mini-budget” — and the new federal climate plan. The government has now committed more than $30 billion to climate jobs and reducing emissions including:
- $3.16 billion to plant two billion trees.
- $631 million to restore and enhance wetlands, peatlands, grasslands and agricultural lands to boost carbon sequestration.
- $98.4 million over 10 years to establish a “natural climate solutions for agriculture fund.”
- $2.7 billion in grants for home energy efficiency retrofits and $1.5 billion for green and inclusive community buildings through retrofits, repairs, upgrades and new builds.
- $150 million to build out zero-emission vehicle infrastructure. $300 million to extend the consumer rebate to make electric vehicles more affordable.
Clean electricity and low-carbon fuels
- Upgrading electricity grids.
- $964 million to advance smart renewable energy and grid modernization to support renewables.
- $300 million to support a transition to clean energy in rural, remote and Indigenous communities that rely on diesel.
- $1.5 billion to increase production and use of low-carbon fuels like hydrogen, renewable natural gas and cellulosic ethanol, through a “low-carbon and zero-emissions fuels fund.”
- $3 billion for a “net zero accelerator fund” to rapidly expedite decarbonization projects with large emitters, scale up clean technology and accelerate Canada’s industrial transformation across all sectors.
- $165.7 million for support and adoption of clean technologies in agriculture.
- $750 million to support clean-tech startups.
- $14.9 billion for public transit projects, including permanent funding of $3 billion per year beginning in 2026-27.
- $1.8 billion to help transit systems continue to operate safely during the pandemic.
The government has also earmarked a portion of the Canadian Infrastructure Banks’s funds to co-finance zero-emission transit infrastructure and energy retrofits of large-scale buildings through low-interest loans.
It seems like a lot of money, but Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada’s recovery investments will be on par with other OECD countries, at three to four per cent of GDP, or $100 billion. Will investments that create good jobs while addressing the climate and biodiversity crises be a footnote, or the central focus of Canada’s recovery strategy? Will Canada extend additional subsidies to — and prolong reliance on — fossil fuel extraction or use this moment to accelerate the shift to a clean economy?
The federal budget will be a defining moment. While funds already committed to climate action are a good start, the Green Budget Coalition (of which the David Suzuki Foundation is a member) has recommended transformative investments on a much larger scale, as have other experts like Corporate Knights and the Task Force on Resilient Recovery. And the government has yet to fund its 2019 campaign promise to protect 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and waters.
The Green Budget Coalition also recommends Budget 2021 investments in other areas, including chemicals management, pesticide regulation and enforcement of environmental laws — core environmental functions of government necessary to support a green recovery.
Ultimately, we need to reorient Canada’s economy to optimize economic decision-making in consideration of social foundations and environmental limits. Making Budget 2021 a Canadian well-being budget — as countries like New Zealand have done — would support integrated decision-making toward a sustainable economy.
Before the COVID-19 health crisis, the climate and biodiversity crises were threatening the planet’s health, our health. The pandemic has highlighted the big changes needed to make our communities, this country and the world sustainable, equitable and healthy.
Over the past 10 months, the David Suzuki Foundation’s action tracker has logged more than 50,000 letters to government in support of these recommendations for a green and just recovery, and many other organizations have also mobilized their memberships.
Together we are making a difference. Let’s lock this in!
Finance Canada is inviting Canadians to share their ideas and priorities for Budget 2021.
Be sure to confirm that investing in the environment and fighting climate change are priorities for you in your answer to Question 5. The consultation closes on February 19, 2021.