In the past month there has been a lot of ink spilled over the various parties plans for the environment and to tackle climate change. The New Democrats have, in particular, been wedged out of this conversation to date, with very little put on the table and only a fair bit of rhetoric to judge everything on. That has left many wondering what the Orange Team was going to put forward in this regard. Well today NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh put his plan out there in a big announcement in Montreal, something that seems promising:
I should start by noting I’ve probably been one of the more vocal critics of the NDP lately when it’s come to this policy and finding the right balance; that was one of my big points when I was on The Agenda a couple of weeks ago. After that appearance, I started to hear rumblings about what might be coming down the pipe from the NDP in regard to this plan. Those rumblings left me cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the caution. I had heard some ideas that made me quite excited, so I waited to see what would come out.
And what came out today was a very good start on this road. First off, the tone was much better than what the NDP has been pitching lately. This is a positive message, focused on good details about how this plan will not only work but strive to not leave anyone behind. It’s full of carrot with very little stick, which I believe is crucial to make it work. It’s also framed in compelling yet very NDP language. This doesn’t feel like the NDP trying to “out Green the Greens” or “out Liberal the Liberals”; this feels very much like the kind of practical New Democrat policy that I grew up with, that would be brought forward by a Gary Doer, a Jack Layton or a Roy Romanow. If this is the overall direction where the party is going, I think that’s great. But it also does this by tapping into some of the momentum and movement towards a “New Green Deal”. It’s a good balance, something we haven’t seen in a while under this leadership.
The other thing I love about this plan is the details all through out, with something there for just about everyone. In order to really fight climate change, we have to throw the whole kitchen sink at it; there is no silver bullet or single solution here, so the only way we will achieve our goals is to use every lever that we have at our disposal. This plan that this approach, and that’s probably the most heartening for me to see in all of this. On top of that, while the plan talks about ambitious goals (like the renovation of all homes and buildings by 2050), it actually chunks up that huge task, showing how it can be achieved in a reasonable way within the control of the Federal government. On the house example, the plan points out that they will focus on social housing and government buildings first, which is a perfect way to approach that. Social housing units are some of the most energy inefficient buildings we have in the country and most are crying out for renovations. The same is true for many government offices and buildings. So starting there gives us a chance to take care of some of the heavy lifting up front and in a way where the government can act quickly. So it’s not only practical, it’s trying to do this in the most efficient way.
The plan also draws in many other levers that rarely come up in this discussion. There are promises around the building code, which the Federal government sets the minimum standard for and is reviewed every five years. Using the building code to mandate more efficient homes is a great way to use existing structures to make a big bang. Another example is using Via Rail; the plan talks about ramping up high-frequency rail services to allow more people to commute. For me, that’s just music to my ears. I personally live two blocks from a Via Rail station and because there aren’t trains that leave in the morning for me, I can’t use it to commute. But with this plan, I could commute and leave my car at home. Better yet, for younger families who can’t afford to buy a home in pricier markets, this could allow them to move a bit further out of the city, purchase a cheaper home in a smaller community, while still work where they are. That’s a win-win, and it can reduce our carbon footprint. The plan also talks about leveraging Via Rail to start rural bus services, which is a great way to fill the hole left by Greyhound while rolling out zero-emission busses. Another win-win.
There is a lot here that I like, but the final thing that I will point to is the Canada Climate Bank proposal and how it could be used. I am a fan of this bank concept because it will give Canada a lever to not only help grow investment in cleaner energy for communities, it can help grow the next clean energy industries here at home. When we have this debate, we usually end up talking about the jobs that we have and the jobs that will be in the future. The problem with that discussion is that the future part is usually very abstract, with little definition and no way of knowing what it is. For any transition plan to work, it needs to have more detail and more realism behind it for people to see and be able to picture. The Climate Bank helps to do this, because it shows how you’re going to grow those new businesses, or support industries to come to Canada that might go elsewhere. It’s a very tangible thing that goes a long way to helping this along. On top of that, this piece of the plan shows how this can be rolled out in specific ways to specific regions to meet their specific needs. A great example is creating micro-grids in Northern remote communities, a great and cost-effective way to serve those communities and give them the energy independence that they need, while also helping them get off of costly diesel generation. In a country our size, the only plan that will work is one that is flexible enough to allow individual regions to do what works best for them, and this plan seems to deliver on that.
This plan is not perfect and there are other things I had heard rumoured that I would have loved to have seen in this, but this strikes a balance that I feared would not be there under this leadership. This is a plan that can work for all parts of Canada and is laid out in a reasonable, well thought out manner that is built of examples that already work. The NDP and their policy team deserve a huge tip of the hat for this. This is a plan that focuses on helping people and bringing them together, not dividing them and wedging them apart. It’s something that the NDP is uniquely positioned to do and in this age of political upheaval, I’m glad to see that at least with this plan, the NDP has managed to find their footing in that position again. Will this plan have the power to change the narrative around the NDP? Time will tell but I believe this plan is reasonable, achievable and can create a new conversation around how we proceed as a country in the low-carbon future.