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Michael Ignatieff touts clean-energy platform

Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff addresses the Vancouver Board of Trade during a luncheon on Oct. 13, 2009.


Once again, the Liberals plan to fight the next election on the environment, despite the lessons of recent history.

"At the heart of our next platform will be the most significant national investment in clean-energy jobs this country has ever seen," leader Michael Ignatieff declared Tuesday, a year less a day after his predecessor, St├ęphane Dion, was whupped in a federal election, in part because of his proposed "green shift" carbon tax.

Undaunted, Mr. Ignatieff, in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, laid out a three-pronged approach to making Canada a global leader in clean energy by investing in new technologies and new industries; by upgrading the energy infrastructure through a so-called "smart" energy grid, and by making the federal government - the nation's largest employer and customer - a model of environmentally responsible behaviour.

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"The jobs of tomorrow are being created elsewhere as we speak," Mr. Ignatieff warned. "Either we act now, or we spend the next decade wishing we had."

The Liberal proposal was not accompanied by cost estimates, which all major parties now eschew.

When asked after the speech what his program would cost, Mr. Ignatieff said it was "not huge in dollar terms" and would have a multiplier effect in creating new jobs and tax revenues.

Candidate Barack Obama took a similar approach to energy renewal during the U.S. presidential election. Under his presidency, Congress authorized $80-billion (U.S.) in clean-energy investments, as part of a nearly $800-billion stimulus package. Globally, public and private investments in clean-energy technology totalled $150-billion (U.S.) last year, according to London-based New Energy Finance, though this year investment is expected to decline to around $110-billion, because of the global recession.

Mr. Ignatieff excoriated Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives for running a deficit that this year is in the range of $56-billion, while at the same time unveiling three plans on climate change since 2006, but failing to put any of them into action.

The political question is whether Canadians are concerned enough about Canada's laggardly approach to pursuing clean-energy alternatives to cast a vote for the Liberals. Traditionally, voters worry more about job security and taxes during tough economic times than about preserving the environment, though younger voters consistently rank it as a higher priority than do older voters.

When asked by reporters after the speech about the wisdom of focusing on the environment rather than on economic concerns, Mr. Ignatieff insisted that the one was the other.

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"The key point I'm trying to make today is that this is not marginal to an economic strategy," he said. "This is a key piece of it for us."

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The Liberals have, however, learned one important lesson. Their environmental policy is based on pouring money into energy renewal, rather than on levying a carbon tax, which voters massively vetoed in the last election.

Mr. Ignatieff promised that, under the Liberals, Canada would create incentives to promote the use of renewable energy such as solar and wind power; finance carbon sequestration technology to clean up its fossil-fuel production; spend on greener infrastructure, including "smart" electrical grids. And the federal government would buy greener cars and make its buildings more energy efficient under the Liberal plan.

The Liberal Leader also criticized the Conservatives for waiting for the United States to settle on a climate-change policy before Canada unveils its own. Mr. Harper's government has argued that the two countries' economies are so closely integrated that Canada's emissions regulation must be aligned with that of the United States.

"We need to work with Washington, but we can't just wait for Washington," Mr. Ignatieff said. "If we keep refusing to drive the agenda, our vital interests, our cross-border trade and our future competitiveness will be at risk."

With a report from David Ebner in Vancouver

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