Elizabeth May is leader of the federal Green Party
This election campaign has zeroed in on the trivial in economics, steadfastly ignoring the big picture. Whether the budget is balanced this year or last is not a significant economic question. A $1-billion to $2-billion surplus or deficit in a $2-trillion economy is unimportant. It will not get people to work or stimulate investment.
But for Stephen Harper's political commitment to balance the books in time for an election, we would not be so focused on the question of deficit. Moving the budget to late April to book the sale of GM shares to 2015, while slamming the brakes on needed investment in transportation infrastructure, delaying needed military procurement and short-changing First Nations communities and the processing of refugees suggests panic, not prudent planning.
The worst thing about this superficial fixation on the deficit is that not spending on infrastructure and imposing austerity measures worsens the big picture.
We are in a recession. Our economy has been stagnant for the past three to four years. Investment is simply not occurring. Prudent government spending makes sense. To get out of recession, we need investment in those things that meet a public purpose.
The Green Party has pledged one percentage point of GST to address the massive national infrastructure deficit with direct support to repair our bridges, modernize public transit, and deliver clean drinking water and efficient waterworks. We need to invest in improving our national passenger rail system and in enhancing our east-west electricity grid. These are nation-building projects – but they also improve our energy productivity.
We need to stimulate the economy and meet the global challenge of reducing carbon pollution. The best way to do both is to attack the loss of money and energy in buildings that are massively energy inefficient. Unleashing an army of carpenters, electricians and contractors will create jobs and boost spending in every part of Canada. Homeowners will welcome the return of the ecoENERGY tax rebates, while municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals will receive grants for improving insulation, heating, cooling and lighting.
We must address the lagging indices of productivity in Canada. The productivity gap between the United States and Canada has widened as never before. The best way to close the gap is to boost our manufacturing sector and shift away from raw resource exports. Whether in the export of raw logs or raw bitumen, shipping out unprocessed resources is foolish. In the case of the Chevron refinery in Burnaby, B.C., production has been slashed by a third, reducing the work force by a third as well. The National Energy Board refuses to consider issues of energy security and a few years ago opened the door to Kinder Morgan's decision ship out raw bitumen.
As a result, Chevron has less access to the product it can process – synthetic crude produced when bitumen is upgraded. Now Kinder Morgan wants to increase the tanker traffic out of Vancouver Harbour seven-fold. This could well lead to the closing of the last refinery on the lower mainland. Raw resource exports deepen our low productivity; exports of manufactured goods help close the gap.
We are on the cusp of a major industrial revolution. Globally the world is turning to renewable energy and clean technology. 2014 was the first year in which global investment dollars in renewable energy outpaced fossil fuel investments.
According to a report released today by Clean Energy Canada, renewables attracted $10.9-billion in investments in Canada in 2014, nearly double the combined investments in forestry, agriculture and fishing. Employment in clean energy is also growing – up 14 per cent in 2013 above the previous year.
Increasing dependence on fossil fuels increases risk to Canada's economic future. Analysts warn of fossil fuel investments as "stranded investments in unburnable carbon." The carbon bubble is real and smart investors are diversifying.
It is time for Canada to shift to a smart economy. It is time to realize that the best way out of a recession is to embrace the shift to a sustainable economy.
Eds note: An earlier version incorrectly stated that renewables attracted $109-billion in investments in Canada in 2014.