THUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – Like most federal budgets, the one passed in June has its strengths and weaknesses…few strengths and many weaknesses! Among the losers were energy conservation and energy efficiency. A number of programs were cancelled, which, apart from their environmental benefits will impact jobs and the economy in our region.
This past January, the government announced the closure of its ecoEnergy Home Retrofit Program two months earlier than planned. Since 2007 this program has given out grants of up to $5,000 to homeowners for energy efficient upgrades like replacing furnaces, improving insulation and sealing windows and doors. It had proved extremely popular. Over 750,000 Canadians took advantage of the ecoEnergy program, including 250,000 who applied for grants in the past year alone. The program was initially killed last year, but after intense Opposition pressure, Budget 2011 breathed temporary life into it. I was sincerely hoping that Budget 2012 would do the same, but it was not to be, as the Conservatives just don’t believe in energy conservation.
The program carried huge benefits for the economy, the environment, and the average Canadian. It encouraged Canadians to conduct an energy audit on their homes and learn what changes could save them energy and money, while helping the environment. It saved its homeowners an average of 20% on their energy bills every year, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and added up to $4 billion to our economy. Estimates by the British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines state that ecoEnergy was revenue-positive for the government: for every dollar invested in the program, two dollars came back in taxes from economic activity stimulated by ecoEnergy. Bonus: it had created 3,000 jobs nationwide since 2007!
The ecoEnergy program was particularly significant in Northwestern Ontario. Due in part to the HST, the cost of home heating rose 17% last winter, a rate that is simply too high for many families to keep up with. Our long cold winters mean that many cannot afford to heat their homes and provide for other basic needs at the same time. The government had originally budgeted $400 million for the program, but less than half of this funding was used before the government decided to close it. Alas, cost relief for Canadians under this program is at an end. Mr. Harper places Big Oil before Canadian homeowners.
Another environmental program vital to our region ended with Budget 2012. The Harper Government’s decision to end the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program could have a devastating impact on communities across our region. This was an environmentally friendly initiative that provided support for pulp and paper mills to improve their efficiency, and become competitive with American mills. It was virtually the last support for a struggling sector that has been on its knees in the face of massive subsidies to U.S. competitors. With the cancellation of this program, 95% of all federal support to the sector has been cut.
This loss was particularly dangerous for the Terrace Bay community. After a tragic explosion in October and financial difficulties, the Terrace Bay mill shut down. It was relying on a $19 million grant under the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program for upgrades to make the facility more efficient and attract a buyer. I brought the issue to the Minister’s attention, and am appreciative that he extended the deadline to complete the work. Now, the mill has been successfully sold to a new operator. Unfortunately, the loss of the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program still threatens other mills in the region.
Since winning a majority, Harper has repeatedly turned his back on the forest sector in favour of oil and gas development. Double trouble: while he attacks the environment, Canadian industries and jobs are sacrificed! The government must remember that there is more to Canada’s resources than just the overdevelopment of the oil sands – or continue padding the pockets of American and Chinese oil barons while the rest are neglected. Don’t ordinary Canadians deserve long term prosperity too?