Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support this bill which makes a small and incremental change to the Energy Efficiency Act.
We all know that when a number of small actions are added up, the results can be enormous. They can be impressive. When all the gains in energy efficiency that we can make in Canada are added up, we discover that the most important energy resource we have is actually not under the ground, but right in our homes and communities. Energy efficiency is our forgotten resource.
When we take a look at its potential from a collective point of view, we see that it is our biggest energy resource. It is the cheapest and it creates the most jobs. It is integral to helping Canadians live in a low carbon future.
My disappointment with this bill and with the approach of this government is that it has not realized the full and enormous benefits of this energy efficiency solution. What we see today is a small incremental change. What we need from our federal level of government is a view of the bigger picture. A real plan to tap into the benefits of energy efficiency as a resource and to mine its future potential.
The government does pay lip service to this. Some in government have clearly read some of the documents by Ralph Torrie from the David Suzuki Foundation. They know how to use the rhetoric, but they either do not know, or they do not want to produce a real and aggressive energy efficiency plan for our country.
If we count negawatts in addition to megawatts of energy, energy efficiency should be providing 30% to 50% of our energy requirements in a low carbon future. To do this we need to start investing today.
Not only is energy efficiency a huge resource, but it is also an excellent form of economic stimulus. It reduces costs for businesses and homeowners over the long term. It is estimated to create five times the number of jobs compared to conventional energy. It is estimated that 80% of the investments made are actually spent in the local economy.
Instead of an economic stimulus plan that makes investments in our future, creates jobs and puts money into our local economy, we have a government that is looking at backyard decks as a stimulus plan. Instead of having something to show for ourselves by building up an energy efficient economy, we are going to build a bunch of backyard decks instead of energy efficient homes.
In Nova Scotia I have been privileged to work on this issue in-depth. I am a member of the Affordable Energy Coalition and a representative of low-income Nova Scotians in front of our utility board. I have worked with our power utility, with the Ecology Action Centre, with industrial operators, municipalities and consumers. Together we have agreed on a plan to start investing in energy efficiency in our province.
I will share with members of the House that Nova Scotia is poised to be a cutting-edge jurisdiction on energy efficiency. An economic analysis of our electricity system was conducted that tried to figure out the most cost-effective plan for going forward in the future. The results were very clear. The results were that our province must aggressively invest in as much energy efficiency as possible. The alternative was to build another coal plant that would add $1 billion more in costs to electric consumers. Instead of building another 400 megawatt coal plant, the plan now is to build a power plant out of energy efficiency.
Stakeholders got together and agreed that these programs, first, have to be invested in; second, they have to be effective; and third, they need to actually work. After a long and deliberative consultation we also agreed that the best way for us to move forward was to create Canada's first third party performance-based administrator. Unfortunately, this action has been delayed. It is very unfortunate because every wasted day means more wasted energy.
An impressive strategy for energy efficiency has been pushed by the stakeholders in Nova Scotia, but it will not go anywhere unless we see leadership from all levels of government. Now that I am an MP, I recognize the importance of speaking about this issue today in the House of Commons.
There is also an important social dimension of energy efficiency because having access to energy efficiency services for all, rich and poor, rural and urban, homeowner, tenant and business, is very important. In a future where energy costs are sure to rise, energy efficiency is a new type of social service required to provide security. It needs to become a basic right for all. It needs to be a component of a green new deal that Canadians are waiting for.
In Nova Scotia, stakeholders agreed that everybody needs to participate in energy efficiency programs. This includes low-income Nova Scotians, who face the highest barriers to energy efficiency.
I have worked with low-income Nova Scotians in Canada facing energy poverty. They have decisions about whether to feed their kids or heat their homes. They make decisions between heating or eating.
I worked with members of one family in particular who lost their electricity, which meant they had no heat or lights. They were very worried that children's aid would take their children. They did the right thing and went into the shelter system until they could save up enough money to pay for their power bill. Going into the shelter system meant splitting up their family. The kids were taken out of their school because they had to go to another jurisdiction where the shelter was located. Dad couched surfed. Mom stayed with the kids. They lived in a shelter while they tried to cobble together enough money to pay for their electricity, have it reconnected, turn on the heat and have a safe home.
I have also worked with clients who have scraped together the money to pay down their electricity bills and, as a result, had no money left for food. Many people do not realize the circumstances that low-income Canadians are in when faced with having to choose between heating or eating. Some of my clients have ended up living on cat food because they have used all their money to pay their electricity bills. It is shocking to hear, but it is true that it is happening in Canada.
Upgrading insulation, changing light bulbs and caulking windows are really good investments, but for low-income Nova Scotians and Canadians who are barely scraping by, these investments cannot be made. We need a program in Canada that ensures that low-income Canadians can cut their bills and help the environment.
Organizations such as Green Communities Canada have been calling on the government to create a national low-income energy efficiency program, but the government has not done it. This means that some of the most vulnerable members of society are excluded. These people could be helped the most by these programs, but instead they are being left out.
Energy is a basic service that is required in Canada but we need to truly start thinking of it as a service, which means asking questions about how much heat and light we get instead of how much energy and fossil fuels we burn. People are rightfully concerned when the cost of energy increases. They think more about the rates than about the bills. What is required is the ability to give people the tools to cut their bills in a future when our electricity and heating rates will no doubt increase in price.
It is no surprise that people are concerned with rates or the per unit cost of energy. We have built a huge infrastructure with transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, and oil refineries all of which are dedicated to energy supply, but we have yet to build the infrastructure required to reduce energy demand.
We need to start living in a world where accessing energy efficiency services is as easy as accessing energy supply services; where saving energy, upgrading light bulbs and getting a home audit is as easy as filling a tank with fuel oil that efficiency displaces over time; where accessing public transit is as easy as pulling into the gas station; and where talking to an energy efficiency professional is as common as going to the convenience store.
With so much potential, we need a lot more than incremental changes to energy labelling. We need a real strategy that includes investments, a strategy that includes consistent upgrades to appliance and equipment efficiency.
A labour market strategy is needed to kickstart the energy efficiency industry in our country. There needs to be training at all levels. I have worked on these programs in Nova Scotia and we actually had to have a component in the budget for training. We are creating jobs. There are not enough people to do this really amazing work, and it is skilled work. There are thousands of people needed to do this work across Canada. With so many people losing their jobs now, it is extremely disappointing to see the total lack of vision from the government on the potential for an energy efficient economy of the future.
It is the federal government's role to look at the big picture. While the small, incremental changes in this bill are important and need to be supported, the federal government also needs to be prepared to look at the big picture and to exercise some vision and leadership in building an energy efficient economy.
Mr. Speaker, it is with sincere pleasure that I rise to speak to this bill, not so much for the contents of the bill, which are thin gruel in some respects, but to the actual challenge put in front of this country and the world.
Bill , seeks to give government further powers and restrictions on certain products that Canadians use every day, such as, washers, dryers, and the like. It is a disappointment in the sense that it is such a small measure in overall goal that Canada must set for itself. Canada must take a leadership role globally.
It is a small measure with respect to the serious issue of rising energy costs. Canadians have seen those costs grow year after year, although there have been some dips along the road when energy prices have fallen. We always notice that as prices go up on the world market, prices correspondingly rise here. However, when the prices on the world market fall, the price at the pump or the electricity prices do not fall correspondingly. The overall trend continues to be bad for consumers.
The bill attempts in some small way to address what are the government's powers. The response from industry has been best described as tepid. It does not seem to be excited one way or another about this, which is usually an indication that not all that much is going on. When the government comes forward with bold and strong measures, there is often a response from industry asking for less to happen or asking for it to happen in a different way. If government comes forward with something that is lukewarm, much more subtle and non-intrusive to the industry's own plans, then we see things such as this bill, which is not much.
The response from the groups concerned with these issues specifically on the environmental side has been mildly positive, in that it is seen as a small step forward. However, the government consistently has failed to come forward with anything comprehensive. That will be the focus of my comments today, because efforts outside of any comprehensive cognitive strategy, anything that people can understand as a cohesive plan, are just efforts in the dark. They are one-offs and do not do enough to bring us to where we need to be and where I sincerely believe Canadians want to be.
It seems there might be one small glimmer of hope contained in the bill, but one has to read into it and dig into it to find whether this is a real potential. That is the possibility that the government could restrict the water usage of some appliances. For example, there are clothes washers and dishwashers that use a third, a quarter, a fifth of what the standard models use. These types of measures are needed.
There are cities that need to invest billions upon billions of dollars on infrastructure. There are water shortage issues in certain parts of our country. This has been a crisis in Alberta in the past. This most likely will continue to be a problem for consumers and for industry. The government should clamp down on products that are wasteful for no good reason. They do not deliver a better service to Canadians. They do not deliver at a better price. They just use more water and more energy for no good reason other than that we have had it too good for too long.
We have had so much in the way of natural resources in countries like Canada. The notion was that there would always be more. There would always be more water, more trees, more energy and that we could simply design our industries and our entire economy based on the principle of waste, based on the fundamental principle that if prices drop, we just do more, that it is okay to waste a bunch, the volumes are so great it will not be a problem.
We are starting to bump up against the natural limits of the environment, the natural limits of what our resources can actually sustain. This is happening globally. We are seeing more and more conflicts around the world on issues involving water and energy. We are still experiencing the war in Iraq, which the American administration has finally admitted was an energy war. We are seeing it happen at a national level with a government that claimed it was going to map the water basins throughout Canada and failed to do so. We consistently hear of boil water advisories in our poorer communities. We also see it at the local level, where people are struggling to find ways to use less water and energy, to turn off the tap, to turn off the lights. Folks are unaware that a lot of the products they buy are vulture electronics. They are called that because they draw power all the time.
With the old televisions and stereos we used to have, we would turn them on, it would take a couple of seconds for them to warm up, and then we would see the screen or hear the music. Now we hit a button and our computers, televisions, or stereos are on in an instant. The reason they are able to do that is because they are constantly drawing power from the grid, anticipating that split second when we might need to see them, use them, or have them available to us. All that power is being used over time.
When we look at the need for new power in this country, in this province of Ontario and my own province of British Columbia, all sorts of money is being spent by government and industry to create new sources of power, when the easiest way to create that new power is not to use it in the first place, to actually conserve, which fits the interests of all our voters, the people who put us here, to lower their energy bills.
The only people who have an interest in keeping more power on the grid or producing more power for our cars and vehicles are the people who produce that power, so they can make more money.
There is a strong and deep interest and we are finally starting to see it from some of the more enlightened energy companies. Investing more in energy efficiency and understanding more about the need to make a more efficient, more productive, more competitive economy is fundamentally based within questions of energy, whether it is human energy or the energy that we typically talk about in this place, which is electricity, oil and gas, and the like.
Canadians need to know that this bill, for all its small merits, takes place within a policy vacuum of the government.
I had a term turned back on me just yesterday while meeting with some energy consultants. They mentioned the Turning the Corner plan. It had been so long since I had heard it. It had been so long since I had heard the government mention it.
The government brought out this plan in 2007, for those who will remember, and there was the promise of regulations and rules by which this plan would actually be achieved. There was the promise, and nothing was delivered.
What does industry do when there is a policy vacuum? What does industry do when there are no actual rules in place? They continue on with business as usual.
Some of the investments we are talking about, particularly in higher stakes energy, such as the oil and gas and the electricity producers, require billions of dollars to switch from one to another. I recall a meeting I had with some folks who were involved in the mining industry, both in extraction and in the refining or smelting side of operations. They were furious with the government and the previous governments.
One would assume they would be natural allies of the government. They no longer were because they had seen the government issue statement after statement about requiring energy efficiency, requiring fewer greenhouse gases in the operation, yet time and time again, industry had made those investments assuming the rules would follow and nothing followed.
They are still waiting for the Turning the Corner regulations and rules. Not one has been issued of any substance.
In the policy vacuum that has been created, we see Canada, under the and others, trying to enter the slipstream of what is happening in Washington, waiting, delaying, not setting any price on carbon, not setting any regulatory limits on what happens with pollution, waiting for the Obama administration to make the effort for them.
As we have seen just this past week, the Obama administration came out with its climate change plans, a document of some 600 pages, and the response from the Canadian government is that everything is fine with us, using measurements that will simply not coincide with what our American partners are suggesting and will do, from all prescriptions.
We are seeing in Congress, both from the House of Representatives side and the Senate side, bills coming forward that are absolutely counter to what the Conservatives have proposed. On one specific issue, how we measure greenhouse gases, which would be one of the most fundamental issues if we are trying to control greenhouse gases, the government here insists on using intensity-based targets, which nobody in the world uses. Certainly nobody who hopes to participate in a carbon market is proposing the use of those targets. It is just simply not done because it is not possible. It is apples and oranges.
One measures the amount of greenhouse gases going out per unit of energy or per unit of economy, which is this intensity fiction that the Conservatives promote. The other one just says, “Here is a hard cap. Here is your limit. Below it, you can trade. Above it, you have to buy”. That is how the market works.
When I was recently in Washington talking with some of our congressional allies, I asked them what kinds of conversations they have had with Canada about integrating our market systems. These were the principal movers of these bills, the folks whose signatures are now going on these pieces of legislation in Washington.
They said their conversation me was the first one they have had with a Canadian legislator, impossible for me to believe when we have this great and glorious embassy in Washington with all sorts of staff and very bright, smart people walking around. We have an entire bank of ministers heading down to Washington every so often, yet the conversation about integrating one of the most important and fundamental markets, which will be upon us within a year, had not started, thereby not allowing Canadian industry access to one of the most important markets they need to access.
Further to that, and this speaks to the energy efficiency of this, the Americans have been talking about a low-carbon standard for fuels for some time. The initiative started out of Maine, New York, California, and Washington state, and is now being picked up by Washington, D.C. The Canadian response to this is that we hope they don't do it, because Canada produces some of the highest carbon fuels in the world. The Americans are saying they are going to put a limit on the amount of those fuels they allow into the country. They are actually putting a limit on the amount of carbon that is emitted by the fuels that American consumers and industries are meant to consume, which is produced in Canada, which is apparently the Conservative government's preoccupation on a daily basis and it has not made any efforts to understand the absolute train wreck that is coming our way if we do not react to this and start to produce fuels of a lower carbon standard.
Canada's response, to this point, is simply to say that it won't happen, that the Americans will blink and simply won't have a low-carbon fuel standard. I have news for the Conservatives. The folks who are drawing up this legislation, within the White House and on the Senate and the House of Representatives sides, have all said and have written in black and white for the Canadian government to finally see, “This is happening”. This is what is on the table, and the Canadian government refuses to take any real recognition of the scope and scale of the challenge that is put before us.
It is absolutely fine for the government to give itself some more powers with respect to the efficiency of electronics and the efficiency of appliances that Canadians use on a daily basis, but it does not ban the most inefficient ones. It simply says we will allow a few more of these to come forward in a more efficient way. However, the real culprits, the ones that consume the most power, the most water, and waste the most, are still not available to the government to stop outright. Why that would be, I have no idea.
It is not as if the administration of other countries around the world have not gone down that path with no serious detriment to consumers or industry. We have seen the Europeans and Japanese go forward on this for more than two decades, and the Australians, New Zealanders and others. The path is laid, which may be the only advantage Canada actually has at this point when it comes to dealing with climate change or energy efficiency. Because of the delay of the Conservative government and previous Liberal regimes, the path forward has been paved with respect to certain basic elements of how to make a more efficient and less polluting economy.
It is not as if Canada has to reinvent the wheel at this point. So many administrations have gone before us with sincere and genuine leadership. We see this now taking place even at the G20. Today, our and leaders from around the world are there.
It is actually 22 countries. They are going to have to change the name at some point, I suppose, but we will call it the G20 because all do.
At this summit with the European leaders and the American administration, in the talks about the stimulus packages that are needed, there is talk about what level, if Canada is below the 2% commitment it made six months ago in Washington at the G20. In the recovery packages that the administrations are talking about in Europe and the United States, they are talking about a green recovery. They are saying that if they are going to spend this much public money into the private markets, as the Canadian government and other governments are doing, for heaven's sake, should they not put some other public interests in place as well?
The public interest has been consistent and strong over the last number of years that we want less polluting cars, less polluting industry and greater efficiency with what we do, because Canadians do not like the idea. Where it may have been a historical reality for those who built this country that there was just such a wealth of resources that waste was not a deep consideration, it now is and Canadians concern themselves with this. It is why they recycle. It is why they attempt to do things such as carpooling and buying better electronics and equipment for their homes.
It seems to me, though, at this time, when the world is talking about putting in place a green recovery, our administration here is still seized with some ancient ideas. I cannot count how many times I have heard the so-called say that we have to choose between the environment and the economy, that we cannot threaten the economy by dealing with the environment at this point in time.
When times are good it is not time to deal with the environment, and when times are bad it is not time to deal with the environment, according to that type of thinking. The conclusion is always the same from the Conservative and Liberal leadership, that it is not time to deal with the environment.
The current Liberal leader, for goodness' sake, called the tar sands a national unity issue. I have heard it called many things by those who promote it and by those who decry it, but I have never heard it spoken of as a thing that bonds all Canadians together, that somehow folks sitting in Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver are on bended knee every day, praying for the health and welfare of the tar sands.
Of course, it is important to hone in on something that is going on, but for goodness' sake, we have to have some sort of measure of balance.
When bills moved previously through this House, spending bills from the government talking about energy efficiency, talking about the need to do better on climate change, the first one that came forward was a bus transit pass allotment. The government put in place the idea of making it easier for folks to get on transit. All the transit authorities across Canada said it was a wonderful idea but to give them more buses because they knew their users, they knew the people who use transit, and what they needed was greater efficiency and greater allowance onto the transit system, that this was the problem.
The government said, no, it was not going to listen to that advice. It was going to go its own way and offer people a tax break so that they could submit their monthly transit receipt and get money back on their taxes.
There is not a problem the government sees that cannot be solved by a tax credit of some kind or another. Lo and behold, that type of neo-conservative economic policy has put us into a certain situation and it still will not be reconsidered by the government, for reasons that are beyond me.
We said not to do this because it would not actually solve the problem the government was going after. It would not get more people onto transit. It would only affect early adopters, the people who are already use transit. As well, the amount of greenhouse reductions would come at an exorbitant price. It would be very expensive per tonne reduced, per car removed from the road.
The Auditor General unfortunately proved us right. That program ended up costing Canada between $5,000 and $6,000 a tonne. It is impossible to imagine that the government has the capacity and the intelligence within it to actually achieve any of the targets that it proposes. It puts out things like this bus transit pass that, if we actually ran the numbers at $5,000 or $6,000 a tonne, would make it impossible for Canada to achieve its goals under the current government's thinking.
A second bill that came forward is absolutely mystifying to me. The government brought forward a biofuels initiative about 18 months ago. We gave it a good look and allowed it to go to committee. At the committee stage, we moved two amendments. This was some $2 billion, a significant chunk of taxpayer money, going towards biofuels. We said that if we were going to subsidize biofuels--the ethanols, the corn ethanols, and the fuels of the world, maybe sugar or beet, we did not know what--there must be two filters applied over top.
One would be how many jobs we could possibly create with the expenditure of $2 billion. That should be a factor. At that time, we were not in a recession, but certainly there were some very shaky elements of our economy that we saw, the government ignored, and we all landed in. We said to at least put in a job component, a metric that says how many jobs we will create for the $2 billion invested. The government said, no, it did not need to do that; it would just simply spend the money.
The second thing we said was that if we were trying to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by Canada, should that not be a filter on the greenhouse gas program? Could we not put that down as a measure, as a marker to say that we were going to achieve the most greenhouse gas reductions possible? The government said, no, why would it do that, and it did not. As a result, the $2 billion went out the door. It was a farm subsidy. Fine, if the government wants to do a farm subsidy, it can. However, $2 billion goes out the door and greenhouse reductions from that subsidy are negligible, according to every study that has been done on it.
So in this policy vacuum, when bills such as Bill come along and the government waves them around and says it is fixing climate change and not to worry about it, it happens within the context of nothing else.
Certainly when the governments of the day were looking at developing the tar sands in the first go-round, they did not just do one-offs. They had a comprehensive strategy. They put every measure of government forward--money, research, support, and expertise--to develop that project, and lo and behold, it was successful. They are doing a lot of tar sands right now.
When it comes to the environment, there is not that same intelligence or that same authenticity and sincerity. That is what has been failing Canadians, and that is why this bill, while a small measure, is certainly not going to get the job done.