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How to create jobs: Listen to environmentalists

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Did you know that we could create 130,000 jobs, increase Quebec's GDP, put our finances on healthy footing and save the environment by pursuing a single goal? And what would that goal be? Reduce consumption of gasoline and diesel by 12%.

This is what emerges from an economic analysis released recently by the Regroupement des conseils régionaux de l’environnement (RNCREQ). The authors emphasize at the outset that decreased oil consumption has many benefits such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, improving public health and relieving pressure on household budgets (average expenditure for transportation is almost $9000 a year). These reasons alone justify the 12%-reduction goal, but the authors were asked to explain the impact of such an approach on the economy of Quebec. 

The results are surprising: imagine, 130,000 jobs! The objective of the Couillard government for this term is to create 250,000 jobs, and right now, they are actually losing ground, rather than advancing.

According to the RNCREQ analysis, we spend $18 billion a year to buy oil and $9 billion to buy cars. Since we produce neither, that's $27 billion leaving the Quebec economy and contributing to our trade deficit.

That's $27 billion evaporating, when the solutions to reduce this loss are so simple. If I were premier and I was looking for a way to get our finances on healthier footing and to stimulate the Quebec economy, I'd be very interested in this study.

In comparison, TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline project would create 3600 jobs during construction and 200 jobs thereafter.

Journalists had a lot to say about this analysis when it launched. What is surprising – and nice – is how few voices spoke out against it. In fact, I didn't hear anyone challenge it. Instead, well-respected economists, including HEC professor Pierre-Oliver Pineault, sanctioned it.

In the same vein, the SWITCH coalition in support of a green economy addressed the Godbout Commmission on the Quebec tax system last week. My colleague Steven Guilbeault and Yves-Thomas Dorval, president and CEO of the Conseil du patronat du Québec (Quebec Council of Employers), recommended with one voice that the government conduct an environmental overhaul of its tax system, including preserving the carbon exchange and making the "polluter pays" principle more widespread.

The same day, TransCanada filed its Energy East project before the National Energy Board. Employers associations were conspicuously absent. The voices supporting this project were scarce that day. 

Instead, we heard strong opposition from mayors of municipalities in the Lower St. Lawrence (who fear the impact of supertankers on the tourism industry and its 2500 jobs). Gaz Métro is also concerned about the tens of millions of extra dollars that its clients will have to pay, since the Energy East project involves converting a gas pipeline, thus reducing the supply of gas to the eastern provinces.

It was not so long ago that when I was talking about reducing our dependence on oil that I was told immediately that we at least need gas to put in our tanks. I was politely told that I was a dreamer. Until 2011, there was no electric vehicle commercially available in Canada. Three hundred electric vehicles where sold in Quebec in 2011. In 2014, this figure will exceed 5000 with more than 15 models in 2015. The increase is dramatic.

Last week, I was in Quebec City as Equiterre wrapped up its tour on the electrification of transportation, which had visited nine cities across the province since spring. The conclusion: consumers are concerned about the environment and willing to try electric vehicles.

The arguments against an aggressive strategy to reduce our dependence on oil are less credible. Oil companies are becoming the only ones to make such arguments. Our dream of a Quebec driven on renewable energy is quietly becoming a reality.

This article by Sidney Ribaux, executive director of Equiterre, originally appeared in French on the Métro newspaper website.