From transit to home energy retrofits, from natural climate solutions to green innovation funding, the federal budget tabled today by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will put an end to months of lobbying, advocacy, and speculation from climate policy advocates looking for a solid federal commitment to climate action.
In what Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski calls a “pivotal moment for Canada and climate change,” today’s budget is expected to allocate C$70 to $100 billion to an array of pandemic recovery measures, many of them falling squarely within the scope of a just, green recovery, many ranging well beyond.
The climate community may also find out today how seriously Ottawa is committing to options that arguably pull the country farther from a commitment to rapid decarbonization, like continuing fossil fuel subsidies, small modular nuclear reactors, hydrogen derived from methane-intensive natural gas, and the carbon capture and storage techniques on which “blue” hydrogen depends.
“The fundamental challenge for the Liberals has been determining how to most efficiently use the available dollars to supplement the rising carbon price at the heart of its strategy to reduce emissions,” Radwanski writes. “It’s evidently been a struggle, since potential climate-related elements of the budget were still being actively debated within government as recently as the start of [last] week.”
By Sunday evening, there was wide speculation on the contents of the budget documents.
• The Toronto Star reported a likely $12-billion extension of emergency subsidy programs that have helped Canadian businesses weather the pandemic.
• CBC expected to see Freeland allocate $2 billion to launch a national child care program.
• Radwanski said the government might use tax credits to support early-stage clean technology companies and zero-emissions technology, and to back carbon capture, utilization, and storage with a measure similar to the contentious 45Q tax credit in the United States.
• CBC says the government’s commitment to “building back better” will likely translate into dollars for electric vehicle charging stations, commercial building retrofits, and “helping natural resource industries transition to cleaner energy”. With its energy retrofit investments, “the government hopes to create a domestic retrofit industry and supply chain for products such as energy-efficient windows and doors,” the national broadcaster adds.
• Radwanski expects the government to expand funding for its $3-billion, five-year Net Zero Accelerator program, possibly as a way to invest in electric vehicle supply chains, and introduce a low-cost loan program or targeted grants to expand on its past commitments to building energy retrofits.
• In a letter to Freeland earlier this month, a group of more than 50 influential women from across Canada, stressed that investing in nature is essential to a shared future. “In coping through the pandemic, and as it has since time immemorial, our most foundational and essential support system has been Nature,” they wrote. “While we marvel at Nature’s persistent capacity for renewal, we are deeply concerned that natural support systems—from forests to wetlands to ocean and the wildlife they hold—are being dangerously depleted. Over 600 wildlife species are at risk of disappearing. Nature is in crisis across Canada—and therefore, so are we.”
The budget is also expected to address issues of inequality and racial justice that have been brought to wider awareness by the pandemic, and have been at the centre of calls from climate advocates and many others for a recovery that is just as well as green. “It’s become a common refrain—that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed pre-existing and deep-seated inequalities in Canadian society—and it’s one the Liberals say they take to heart,” CBC writes. “The budget is expected to include an emphasis on supporting people who have been disadvantaged historically, and those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. That includes seniors living in long-term care, young people, Indigenous people, and non-white, racialized Canadians.”
Avvy Go, executive director of the Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, pointed to the need and the opportunity to address high levels of unemployment among racialized Canadians.
“This could be the once-in-the-lifetime chance that the government will have this huge amount of fiscal power to correct some very long-standing inequalities,” she told CBC. “It will create so many jobs that it will be a missed opportunity if we don’t use the spending power to address some of the systemic racism, as well as systemic sexism within the labour market by creating jobs for more women, both men and women of colour, [and] people with disabilities.”
On Sunday, Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told CBC chief political correspondent the government plans to keep investing in jobs and economic growth, rather than seeing financial supports rolled back too quickly as they were in the economic crash of 2008-09.
“Our view is aligned with our European colleagues, which is: it’s important for us to invest in rebuilding an economy that’s still 300,000 jobs short of where we were before the pandemic,” Wilkinson said. “Our intention is to move forward, to invest for jobs and growth, to rebuild this economy and ensure that Canada will be strong and prosperous as we move forward.”