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Martin Singh cares about The Environment

Canada’s federal government has abdicated its duty to lead on the environment both nationally and internationally. In fact, Canada is now widely viewed as a ‘spoiler’ in global negotiations on climate change, and we lag behind the rest of the world in green innovation and development.

I want to restore leadership, engage businesses and non-profits in finding profitable solutions to our urgent environmental challenges, and provide clear attainable goals to improve energy efficiency and conservation (which saves Canadians’ money), protect wildlife and water, and ensure accessibility to the best scientific information to base our decisions on.

Environmental Policy - click to download PDF version.

I do not agree with the outdated concept that protecting the environment is not compatible with economic prosperity. Our best hope of finding and implementing solutions to our pressing environmental problems is successful cooperation between businesses and the non-profit sector.

Many businesses already started greening their operations and businesses practices on their own and these businesses have shown us that it is possible to increase profits while being environmentally responsible. For instance, Deloite, an elite listing of top companies in Canada, now includes the Deloite Green 15™ List, a grouping of companies ranging from oil and gas sector to energy efficiency to waste treatment. Canadian companies are showing leadership in these areas and more – we just need to create an environment policy that encourages more Canadians and employers to join in the new green economy. Government has a role to play in encouraging this kind of reform.

The following measures are based on my belief that investments in natural capital, such as biodiversity protection and measures to fight climate change, are not at odds with a prosperous economy and quality of life.

Commitments

  • Bring together the private sector and environmentalists to find solutions to climate change and other pressing environmental problems
  • Expand energy efficiency programs and sustainable transportation to help individual Canadians and businesses profitably transition to being more environmentally friendly.
  • Protect our natural spaces & water
  • Ensure Canadians have the best possible information on the environment

1. Bring together the private sector and environmentalists to find solutions to climate change and other pressing environmental problems

There is a significant unrealized opportunity for both the private sector and the environmental movement to work together to find profitable solutions to environmental problems.  For the private sector, there is the opportunity to access a group of potentially ideal employees (i.e. environmental activists) who are knowledgeable about the issues, motivated to work, and dedicated to finding solutions.  For the environmental movement, activists are able to access the network and finances available to the private sector to find and implement solutions to environmental problems.

Actions: 

  • Expand on the National Roundtable of the Environment and the Economy to create working groups to guide policies to link our prosperity with a healthy environment.
  • Place a price on carbon through an effective cap-and-trade system that will help us transition toward a low carbon future and meet our international responsibility to tackle climate change.

Expand on the National Roundtable of the Environment and the Economy to create working groups to guide policies to link our prosperity with a healthy environment.

We need to take care of the environment by making links with our economy and harnessing the potential of Canadian businesses for innovation and increased productivity. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) encourages economic measures, like carbon pricing, be integrated into economic systems in order to encourage sustainable development. 1

The National Roundtable of the Environment and the Economy represents a good model for increased dialogue amongst the various sectors of our society that must be engaged to deal with the challenges we face. I would expand on this role to include national multi-stakeholder working groups that would act to develop concrete recommendations to parliament on climate change, pollution reduction, and healthy communities. The recommendations would be formally submitted to Parliament by the Minister of the Environment and progress on recommendations tracked by the Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

I believe that protecting the environment is in the best interests of the business sector. Energy efficiency measures increase productivity and reduce operating costs. Innovation and technology create opportunities and employment. What has been lacking in Canada has been a nation-wide forum for common interests that can push for concrete actions and strategies to deal with environmental issues in a constructive rather than combative way.

I would create a reporting mechanism and tracking though the Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development, who will report of government actions in response to the Roundtable Working Group recommendations.

Place a price on carbon through an effective cap-and-trade system that will help us transition toward a low carbon future and meet our international responsibility to tackle climate change.

The greatest incentive to reducing pollution causing climate change is to put a price on damaging activities that provides impetus for industry to move toward less emitting activities. In terms of climate change, the single most important step we can take is to put a price on carbon emissions that reflects the true costs of climate change to society.

The Pembina Institute and David Suzuki Foundation recommend putting a price of $200 per tonne of carbon by 2020 to get our emission at the limit recommended by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to curb climate chaos (to 25 percent below the 1990 level by 2020).

Right now, we burn fossil fuels and release pollution into the atmosphere at a rate that threatens our future. The easiest way to think about this pollution of a global resource is to imagine the atmosphere as a balloon. For over a century, we can been filling this balloon with ghg emissions: however, the balloon is reaching the point at which is cannot take much more without bursting. As with other limited resources (land, water, etc.) the time is come to place limits on how much more ghg emissions we can pump into the balloon. One of the simplest ways to do this is to issue allowances to industry based on the carbon they are allowed to emit. If they want to emit more, they need to buy these emissions from others who are reducing their emissions and thus don’t need them.

I would create cap-and-trade legislation that creates a cost for these allowances that would start at $40 / tonnes and ramp up to $200 tonne per year by 2020.

This legislation would include the following aspects, recommended by the Pembina Institute, to make sure it was a success:

  • An arms-length cap-and-trade regulator to ensure transparent and fair distribution and trading of carbon allowances. This regulator would also ensure the re-distribution of funds generated that is fair and effective.
  • Legislating how carbon revenue is allocated, with priority to industries most impacted, low-income Canadians, and incentives to counter the costs of carbon, such as for energy retrofits, transit, and electricity grids to allow for renewables.
  • Only allowing the Canadian cap-and-trade system to link with countries with similarly effective carbon cap-and-trade mechanisms, such as no carbon offsets, equivalent or high price on carbon, and incentive mechanisms.
  • Follow the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy’s recommendation that the cap and trade system cover all aspects of the economy, including transportation, industry, buildings and small business.
  • A Canada-wide mechanism to balance high impacted regions, so that the impacts of the cap-and-trade mechanism do not burden certain provinces and territories.
  • Carbon offsets would not be allowed. Carbon offsets allow emitters to get carbon allowance based on activities like planting trees or renewable energy projects. According to the Pembina Institute, these offsets make cap-and-trade systems ineffective because they may include activities that would happen anyway, and thus are not really offsetting ghg emissions. Offsets can also make cap-and-trade ineffective because they can be used so much that they reduce the price of carbon and thus make the entire cap-and-trade incentive ineffective. Internationally, carbon offsets implement under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism have been shown to be ineffective, with only a small fraction of projects actually resulting in emissions.

The costs of dealing with climate change are not insignificant, but I think they are worth it. Not showing leadership on climate change has resulted in increasing the cost of taking action by Canadians over time – in other words, we are going into climate debt.

According to international and national economists, delaying investing in green energy and energy efficiency simply creates an energy debt for future Canadians. For instance, the International Energy Agency estimates that every dollar we don’t spend on climate change before 2020, we will need to spend over 4$ to compensate for increased emissions.2 The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy has estimated that continuing on our high emission path will cost 1% of our national GDP by 2050.

Plus, we are already experiencing impacts, such as storms, sea level rise, increased droughts – that are costing us all. Not dealing with climate change is also an abdication of Canada’s responsibility to mitigate climate impacts, particularly for developing countries that can least afford mitigation measures.

A price on carbon will put a price on our energy, like the gas that runs our cars. For instance, at $100 per tonne price on carbon will result in increase of 24 cents per litre of gasoline. That is a staggering number: however, everyone who fills up their tank on a regular basis knows that the price of gas has risen wildly in recent years – and this cost will only continue to rise. The quicker we become more efficient about how we get around, the more we will save.

Increased energy efficiency in our cars and trucks would also help reduce costs to Canadians. Vehicle efficiency commitments already made by Canada mean our cars and light trucks will be 25% more efficient by 2016. When a price is been placed on carbon, accompanied by the right efficiency measures, consumers have both price incentive and the information needed to reduce the impacts of the increased price of energy.3

A Canadian plan to reduce ghg emissions must include the oil sands. Environment Canada predicts this sector alone will be responsible for 95% of the increase in emissions from our large industrial sector by 2020. Often, reasons given for not tackling climate change in Canada are the costs to this sector. This is somewhat ironic, given the recent decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States: opposition to the project was galvanized in large part because Canada has not taken steps to limit emissions.

The price on carbon would encourage innovations to reduce oil sands emissions. It is estimated that a price of $100 per ton emitted will mean an increase of $6 per barrel of oil produced in the tar sands by the most up-to-date technologies. This is a tiny amount compared with the cost of producing oil from the oil sand relative to world oil prices. So, while a price on carbon would create incentives for much-needed efficiencies in producing oil from the tar sands and result in nation-wide ghg reductions, it would not result in an unreasonable cost.

I believe that Canada can take a responsible attitude on climate while maintain a competitive economy. According to the Pembina Institute, economic analysis from the C.D. Howe Institute and the World Trade Organization have shown that carbon pricing, if implemented fairly has little to no effect on competitiveness or trade.4

2. Expand the energy efficiency programs and sustainable transportation to help individual Canadians and businesses profitably transition to being more environmentally friendly.

Currently, many Canadians are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living increases. Recognizing that green energy is more expensive for the end user, at least initially, government must find solutions to offset these costs.  One way to substantially reduce these costs is through incentives to reduce energy usage.

Actions:

  • Improve and expand the Eco Energy program for building retrofits, commercial and institutional sector.
  • Create a Green Trust Fund to assist business with adopting energy efficiency and engage in the green energy sector.
  • Invest in public transit and reinvigorate passenger and commercial rail systems to save Canadians money, improve air quality, and reduce infrastructure costs.

Improve and expand the Eco Energy program for building retrofits, commercial and institutional sector.

Some of the funds generated from the cap-and-trade system (estimated to generate $60 billion per year at $100 / tonne) would be allocated toward energy efficiency retrofits for homes and businesses. The Green Budget Coalition recommends investing $250 million per year over 5 years to ensure that Canada keeps up with US and UK initiatives to make homes more efficient. My goal would be to ensure that all existing homes in Canada are upgraded for efficiency.

Only about 8% of households in Canada have undergone and energy audit under the current Eco Energy program. According to Natural Resources Canada, those homeowners that have participated in the program have benefited from savings of 23% of their energy bills. This program needs to be expanded and enhanced with clear targets for energy audits so that 100% homes are audited by 2030. In order to reduce upfront costs, which are a barrier to low- and mid-income households, I would modify the program so that the initial home audit is offered free of charge and that the costs of renovations are covered by upfront loans.

Create a Green Trust Fund to assist business with adopting energy efficiency and engage in the green energy sector.

In addition to committing long-term funding for home energy retrofits, I would create a Green Trust Fund that would provide low interest loans for individuals and business owners to become energy and water efficient and invest in clean energy.  The trust would be seeded with $100 million raised through the cap-and-trade system. Repayment on the loan would be calculated based on cost savings from energy retrofits and income. The fund would be built up over time by allowing Canadians to invest in Green Bonds that would allow them to grow their savings based on energy efficiency and clean energy.

Invest in public transit and reinvigorate passenger and commercial rail systems to save Canadians money, improve air quality, and reduce infrastructure costs.

In a country as large as Canada, there are huge incentives to make that transportation of goods and services as efficient as possible. However, according to Transport Canada, the average Canadian is spending about an hour each day commuting and $9000 per year on operating a car – equivalent to 20% of household income. The transportation sector as a whole is responsible for about a quarter (27%) of our national ghg emissions, and emissions from privately owned vehicles have increased by one-third since the early 1990s.

Sustainable transportation reduces costs to Canadians and helps create more livable communities while reducing pollution. According to a report by the Canadian Labour Congress 5, it can also create jobs and benefits the economy. The benefits of investing in public transit in terms of time saving, infrastructure, health and safety, outweigh cost by an average of 12.5% – but the federal government needs to play a leadership role in creating these incentives.6  Meanwhile, we need to invest in passenger and commercial rail systems that would reduce costs of transporting goods safely and efficiently over long distances.

I would kick start a National Sustainable Transportation Strategy that would focus on support for public transit, investing in efficiency upgrades, and high-speed rail links between urban areas, such as Edmonton-Calgary and Quebec City – Windsor Corridor. The strategy would look to assisting municipalities and provinces in investing in public transit. These initiatives will also save Canadians and businesses in transportation and lost time costs and create tens of thousands of jobs.

3. Protect our Natural Spaces & Water

The Canadian identity is integrally linked with our vast wilderness, clean lakes and rivers, and seascapes. We need to ensure that these wild spaces remain protected for the benefit of future generations.  Canada has a long history of protecting wilderness through national parks and other protected wilderness areas.  We also have an international commitment to protecting 17% of our land mass and have committed to creating a network of marine protected areas that covers 10% of our oceans — but we are far from reaching this goal.

Actions:

  • Create a comprehensive, science-based National Conservation Plan in consultation with Aboriginal, environmental, community, and industry leaders.
  • Create a National Water Strategy to protect and restore our precious water and aquatic habitats.
  • Remove the amendment to the federal Fisheries Act (Schedule 2 of the Metal Mine Effluent Regulations) that allows natural water bodies to be converted to waste dumps for mine waste.

Create a comprehensive, science-based National Conservation Plan in consultation with Aboriginal, environmental, community, and industry leaders.

Our world-renowned national parks contribute billions to our economy and supported 35,000 jobs as of 2009.7 Existing parks need resources to ensure habitats are truly protected and new parks need to be established. Protecting wilderness has additional benefits for carbon storage provide ecosystem services such as clean water and air.

I would build on this legacy consulting with Aboriginal, environmental, community, and industry leaders to create a comprehensive, science-based National Conservation Plan. A commitment to create such a strategy was made in the 2011 Throne Speech, but there has been little work done since. I would bolster my commitment to create a plan by setting aside financial means for land acquisition and planning initiatives, with a onetime investment of $100 million and annual allocation of $30 million. According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, this would result in the creation of eight new national parks (South Okanagan-Similkameen, BC; Bowen Island, BC; Flathead Valley, BC; Nááts’ihch’oh (Nahanni Headwaters), NT; Thaidene Nene (East Arm of Great Slave Lake), NT; Bathurst Island, NU; Rouge River Valley, ON; and Sable Island, NS.)8

Right now, Canada protects less than 1% of its oceans. I would enhance our commitment to protect 10% of our ocean areas by 2020 by providing additional support to Parks Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Environment Canada.

Create a National Water Strategy to protect and restore our precious water and aquatic habitats.

Although Canada is home to abundant freshwater resources, clean and healthy water systems are increasingly under threat. Climate change is changing precipitation patterns – creating shortages in some areas and floods in others. Clean drinking water and sewage treatment are of critical importance to all Canadians, but particularly First Nation communities. The evacuation of the Kashechwan reserve in 2006 due to E. coli contamination and the deaths of seven people in Walkerton, Ont. in 2000 are a sad legacy of our lack of a National Water Strategy. Meanwhile lack of protection of aquatic habitats from pollution, invasive species, and over-exploitation have resulted in declines in fish populations, such as wild salmon in BC and fish populations in Lake Winnipeg.

The 2010 Fall Report of the Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development9 showed that monitoring water quality on federal lands, particularly First Nations reserves, is inadequate. Key water quality monitoring programs, the monitoring of the restoration of Lake Winnipeg and toxins and water use in the oil sands were also found wanting. A National Water Strategy would create a targeted approach to help monitor impacts in key areas such as this, and develop actions to protect fresh water resources and human health.

Remove the amendment to the federal Fisheries Act (Schedule 2 of the Metal Mine Effluent Regulations) that allows natural water bodies to be converted to waste dumps for mine waste.

The federal Fisheries Act is one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in Canada. Its focus is protecting our waterways and oceans for the benefit of all aspects of Canadian society, from our fisheries, aquaculture and transportation industries to tourism and marine conservation.

A recent amendment to a regulation under the Fisheries Act, known as Schedule 2 of the Metal Mine Effluent Regulations (MMER), allows a Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to revoke this protection of rivers, lakes and streams, renaming natural water bodies as “tailings impoundment areas” or toxic waste dumps for mines. Right now, there are approximately 13 lakes across the country are at stake. Concern about the potential damage to fish habitat was partly responsible caused one controversial mining project (the Prosperity Mine in Northern BC) to be rejected at the federal level of environmental assessment. The mining and metal processing industry, like all other industries in Canada should pay for the safe disposal of its waste. Canadians could not have to subsidize this industry to the detriment of its fresh water resources and unique aquatic habitats.

4. Ensure Canadians have the best possible information on the environment

  • Make the best scientific information available to Canadians by ensuring federally funded research is accessible and remains at arms-length from political interference by establishing an integrity policy for communicating science
  • Establish a Canadian Centre for Climate Change Science made up of independent experts to coordinate national research and report annually to the Canadian public on findings.
  • Revoke measures in the 2010 federal budget and Bill C-9 designed to diminish the role of the federal government in performing environmental assessments, such as reducing the numbers of projects requiring assessment and allowing part (not all) of a project to be assessed.

Make the best scientific information available to Canadians by ensuring federally funded research is accessible and remains at arms-length from political interference by establishing an integrity policy for communicating science

According to recent media reports, Canadian scientists have been unable to report back to Canadians on the results of their work without government approval.  Given that scientific information on environmental issues generally does not have national security implications, there is no reason that this information, which Canadians have bought and paid for, should not be available to them. As we face the impacts of climate change and other threats on our environment, economy, and social systems, we need the best possible information more than ever. Lack of ability to communicate will also discourage high-level scientists from participating in government science, for fear that they will not be able to collaborate and educate others – a key role of science in the society.

Transparency and access to the best possible information are the best basis for policy development, innovation, and economic planning. However, scientific information has never been more difficult for Canadian to access – a 2010 letter from the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, a group that represents 500 writers and journalists, has implored the federal government to allow government scientists to speak about their work. This issue was highlighted by the publication on salmon viruses in the top journal Science by Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Dr. Kristina Miller. Dr. Miller has not been allowed to communicate her work directly to Canadians and was even forbidden to participate in expert workshops, for fear that the public or media would be able to speak directly to her about her work.

The intellectual accomplishments of Canadian science should be made freely available to Canadians. I would create an integrity policy that would ensure government scientists are able to communicate their work directly to Canadians.

Establish a Canadian Centre for Climate Change Science made up of independent and government experts to coordinate national research and report annually to the Canadian public on findings.

Cuts to Environment Canada have resulted in diminished ability to predict and understand the impacts of climate change. As a result, we are not prepared to deal with climate change impacts like sea level rise, floods and loss of permafrost and Arctic ice. I would reverse federal cuts to climate science and create a Canadian Centre for Climate Change Science made up of independent and government experts to coordinate national research and report annually to the Canadian public on findings.

Currently, government science on climate change is assisting in understanding and predicting climate change impacts. It can also assist us in understanding the price we will pay for inaction in dealing with climate change. Canadian scientists also participate in international efforts, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to predict the global consequences of climate change. However, this research needs to play a greater role in shaping policy development and the education of Canadians. I envision the Canadian Centre for Climate Science will highlight the role of climate science and help attract expertise to this important area of research.

Revoke measures in the 2010 federal budget and Bill C-9 designed to diminish the role of the federal government in performing environmental assessments, such as reducing the numbers of projects requiring assessment and allowing part (not all) of a project to be assessed.

Our ability to assess projects properly to ensure they are sustainable and negative impacts are mitigated was diminished by the Conservative’s 2010 budget bill (Bill C-9) that tied a multitude of unrelated legislative measures to the Budget in order to reduce public scrutiny. Some of the changes rolled into the bill were aimed at diminishing the effectiveness of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).

For example, Bill C-9 allows the Environment Minister to “split” industrial projects into parts, contrary to a Supreme Court ruling on the Red Cris Mine in BC. Project “splitting” can be dangerous: it means that not all impacts of projects are assessed, so not all impacts will be understood or mitigated. The bill also enhances the role National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in performing environmental assessments for energy projects – which is unacceptable since these bodies are also tasked with promoting energy development and may not equivalent mechanisms for public consultation or assessment.

I would reverse these changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and restore the role of environmental assessment as a key policy for engaging Canadians in valid consultation and assessment of projects.

Commitments

  • Bring together the private sector and environmentalists to find solutions to climate change and other pressing environmental problems
  • Expand the energy efficiency programs and sustainable transportation to help individual Canadians and businesses profitably transition to being more environmentally friendly.
  • Protect our natural spaces & water
  • Ensure Canadians have the best possible information on the environment

Conclusion

Canadians will get behind a leader that will take action to protect the environment, and poll after poll shows they want to deal with climate change – even if there are some costs. What have been lacking are opportunities to bring together various aspects of our society – particularly environmental experts and industry – to create solutions that will work and will benefit Canadians.  The measures I am proposing are uniquely Canadian: they face challenges – such as putting a price on carbon – head-on, but also provide opportunities in the area of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation and clean energy.

The protection of wilderness, oceans, and water to benefit all Canadians is a legacy we will be proud to leave for our children. Finally, I want Canadian environmental science to be cutting-edge and openly accessible to the public in order to foster good public policy and increase awareness of the results of environmental research.

End Notes

  1. OECD. 2008. An OECD Framework for Effective and Effi cient Environmental Policies [ENV/
    EPOC(2008)7/FINAL].
    http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/39/19/41644480.pdf (Accessed
    January 2012).
  2. International Energy Agency. 2011. World Energy Outlook (WEO).
    http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/ (Accessed January 2012)
  3. International Energy Agency. 2011. Energy Effi ciency Policy and Carbon Pricing.
    www.iea.org/papers/2011/EE_Carbon_Pricing.pdf. (Accessed January 2012).
  4. Pembina Institute, 2009. Fact Sheet: A Closer look at Costs.
    http://pubs.pembina.org/reports/economics-factsheet.pdf (Accessed January 2012.)
  5. Canadian Labour Congress. 2011. Moving Toward Canada’s “Green” Economy: Investing in Public Transit and Intercity Rail.
    http://www.canadianlabour.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/researchpaper-en.pdf. (Accessed
    January 2012.)
  6. Canadian Urban Transit Association. 2008. The Optimal Supply and Demand for Urban Transit in Canada (HDR Decision Economics, August 2008).

    http://www.cutaactu.ca/en/publicationsandresearch/resources/

    TheOptimalLevelofSupplyandDemandforUrbanTransitinCanada.pdf (Accessed January 2012.)

  7. Canadian Parks Council. 2011. The Economic Impact of Canada’s National, Provincial and Territorial parks in 2009.
    http://www.parks-parcs.ca/english/cpc/economic.php. (Accessed Jan. 2012.)
  8. The Green Budget Coalition. 2012. Recommendations for Budget 2012.

    http://www.greenbudget.ca/pdf/

    Green%20Budget%20Coalition’s%20Recommendations%20for%20
    Budget%202012%20(November%202011)%20(2).pdf. (Accessed January 2012.)

  9. Office of the Auditor General. 2010. Fall 2010 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
    http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_cesd_201012_02_e_34425.html#hd5a (Accessed January 2012.)

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