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Opinion Canada can be a global economic – and environmental – leader

Gordon Campbell was the premier of B.C. from 2001 to 2011. He recently returned to Canada after spending five years serving as Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

Canada's first ministers are embarking on a journey to meet climate challenges head-on, in a way that creates new opportunities and strengthens our economy.

The climate agreement signed in Ottawa last week shows Canada is making progress toward those goals, but we still have ground to cover.

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It takes courage to break out of the old moulds that hold us in their grip. We are all in thrall to the status quo. But we live in a time of increasing turbulence and disruption. There are few places where this is more apparent than when we talk about energy. We have trouble imagining a different paradigm as we continue the quest to improve our quality of life.

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When the first gas station in B.C. opened in 1907 in Vancouver, who could have imagined what that new energy form would sow? Who imagined freeways, personal vehicles that would zoom across the landscape at a hundred kilometres an hour with the power of hundreds of horses under a hood smaller than the back of a buggy? Today's challenges call for new feats of the imagination.

Imagine a world in which energy in all its forms lifts the standard of living for all who occupy the planet. Building on three uniquely Canadian assets – our energy resources, our cities and our citizens – Canada can set a global example for increased quality of life, increased prosperity for Canadians and a cleaner planet that secures a future of improvement rather than deterioration.

The federal government says provinces must put a price on carbon pollution. This is not new – the provincial premiers called on themselves to do just that almost a decade ago. But the new model requires new thinking and new action.

Carbon pricing will fail if it is simply another way for the powers that be to tell you, or anyone else, what to do. The price on pollution must be offset by a similar reduction to personal and corporate income tax. Meanwhile, clean energy initiatives under way in every province must be encouraged.

We should recognize and advocate for the hydro power that can be an enormous competitive advantage for Canada. We should remove the regulatory burdens that stop new technologies to protect the old ones. We should require energy efficiency everywhere. We should demand it of ourselves and our governments. We should stop arguing about transit and build it.

Leading on climate can be a winning strategy – for the economy, for the climate and even politically. When B.C. launched North America's first revenue-neutral carbon tax, many governments and companies around the world were still fighting for the status quo.

Yet B.C.'s economy remained strong, with an average of 5,000 net new jobs created each year from 2008 to 2014. An entirely new clean-tech industry, one that now boasts more than 200 companies contributing to B.C.'s economy, was kick-started.

The B.C. experience offers insight into balancing climate, energy and economic development. As we debate these same challenges nationally, different perspectives will help lead us to better solutions. New solutions demand creativity and action. If we wait for unanimity in a country such as Canada, we won't accomplish much. But it is amazing how many will be drawn to new solutions that work. It is called progress. Here's what we stand to gain: a diverse economy that will be more resilient as the world's appetite for clean energy grows; good, meaningful jobs – for young people just entering the work force, as well as those of us with decades of experience; and a reputation for solutions that solve one of our most vexing problems.

There's big money to be made across the economy as we act on climate change, and innovations that create true value will flourish. It is time for Canada to strive for excellence in stewarding both the environment and the economy.

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It will take leadership, but it can be done.

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