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Speech From the Throne: Should we rejoice?

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In the federal government’s Speech from the Throne on September 23, the energy transition and the environment were named as drivers of the post-COVID recovery. This is encouraging news, but concrete measures can no longer be put off.

We’re happy with the announcement that the planned recovery will be green and equitable, but we must now insist that the government turn its words into actions – decisive actions – to ensure that our country is prepared for future crises, be they health, economic or environmental.

TOWARDS A CLIMATE LAW?

Central to the government’s announcements is something the environmental community has long and eagerly awaited: a climate law. Such legislation would help Canada to surpass its climate objectives for 2030 and to reach its zero net emissions target by 2050.

Ottawa also stated that proposed solutions to combat climate change would be supported by concrete policies such as modernizing the Canadian Environment Protection Act, establishing the Clean Energy Fund, maintaining pollution pricing policies and banning single use plastics.

The government’s environmental strategy will be underpinned by investments in renewable energy as well as clean energy solutions and technologies. Ottawa is also pledging to make sustainable investments in climate change adaptation.

Our recommendations

Équiterre welcomes the announced measures to invest in clean energy, which will help make our communities more resilient, and will support workers in these industries of the future.

But first and foremost, it is crucially important that Ottawa’s commitments in these areas are inscribed in a law on climate accountability.

The government must employ the best available tools to anchor the energy transition in present realities, because the crises that we are facing are upon us. Not tomorrow. Right now. The government must show that it is up to the challenges that we are facing and will continue to face as a society.

TRANSPORTATION ELECTRIFICATION AS AN IMPORTANT SOLUTION

The Trudeau government’s priorities include support for public transport and human-powered (active) transportation. The government is also pledging to make zero emission vehicles more affordable and accessible, and to expand recharging facilities across the country.

Our recommendations

At Équiterre, we are pleased that the recovery will include plans to rethink our modes of transportation. That said, to gauge whether the government’s vision is sufficiently structured and ambitious, we will need to wait for the coming action plans.

First of all, Ottawa must address the size of vehicles on our roads. Over the past decade, light trucks have accounted for an increasing share of vehicles; more polluting, heavier and more dangerous than cars. A structured strategy for sustainable transportation should include a feebate system to incentivize the purchase of zero emission vehicles and discourage the purchase of gas guzzlers. A feebate system would have the advantage of being self funding, freeing up money for other priorities, such as public transportation electrification, for example.

A national transportation electrification strategy that encourages zero emission travel (electric bikes, for example) could generate mini-revolutions benefiting communities across the country. In our opinion, if Canada is truly committed to electrification, it must plan to invest in battery recycling, the circular economy, low-carbon and low-infrastructure modes of transportation and public transit.

At the same time, the transportation electrification strategy should address freight transport. Together we must take bold steps to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated in urban areas by our increased reliance on online shopping and the attendant shipping of goods - a negative byproduct of the current public health crisis. To that end, it is crucially important that Ottawa help municipalities implement innovative initiatives such as low emission zones and electric cargo bike deliveries.

In short, it’s not enough to simply increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads. If we want to create healthy and sustainable communities, the strategy must take everything into account, from bicycles and cars to trucks and public transit.

RESILIENT AGRICULTURE AS A KEY ISSUE

In the Speech from the Throne, the Trudeau government addressed the fragility of our agri-food system. To make it more resilient in the face of current and future crises, Ottawa is pledging to work hand in hand with farmers to combat climate change, through such means as helping them to reduce their emissions. The government also stressed the importance of local food by pledging to strengthen the country’s local food supply chains.

Our recommendations

This is a noble objective, but the government must go further by placing soil health at the heart of its strategy. Soil health is the cornerstone of our food systems, helping to make agriculture more resilient in the face of the climate and economic crises.

To strengthen our food systems and reach our GHG reduction targets, Ottawa must further prioritize nature-based solutions and must facilitate an evolution in our agricultural production and distribution processes, as well as our economic model, to enable producers to make a decent living.

The federal government has an important role to play in helping farmers become more resilient, and Équiterre will continue to propose concrete solutions to help achieve this.

THE CANADA OF TOMORROW

The Speech from the Throne addressed existing inequalities that the pandemic has laid bare, including inequalities in the areas of employment, food security and housing, which must be remedied on a priority basis. Such an important challenge requires deep structural transformations to initiate the ecological transition. The good news is that although we have only just started down this path, we are on the right path.

Now is the time for the government to translate its bold words into ambitious actions. Actions speak louder than words, and are far more eloquent than any speech. Let’s ensure that our voices are heard so that the federal government allocates the billions of dollars of the recovery budget towards a green and just transition.