12 February 2009
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Cochrane, seconded by the Honourable Senator Rivard, for the second reading of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Energy Efficiency Act.
Hon. Grant Mitchell:
I have a great deal of pleasure and honour to be the lead in our caucus on Bill S-3. I want to congratulate Senator Cochrane for her speech. It was very clear and well argued.
I have a few points I would like to pick up on, but all in all, it is a pretty good bill. By and large, I am quite happy with its contents. What concerns me much more is what is not in it.
It is the product of positive collaborative politics, and hopefully we are moving into a new era. You will recognize the effort I made to rise up to a higher level in countering Senator Tkachuk's argument yesterday. I think this bill is, in many respects, a furtherance of a new era of cooperation. I believe this is a bill that received all-party cooperation in the House of Commons and I expect it will receive both party's cooperation and support in this house as well. I have a few points that I would like to make, however, as well as a few questions.
Clause 2 addresses interprovincial trade and importation. Has the government in any way worked with the provinces to establish the implications of this kind of an initiative for their regulations, their economies and their relationships? It would, of course, prohibit the transportation of any product that is in one province to another province if that product has not kept up with improving standards. It does have implications for interprovincial and federal-provincial relations, and I am interested in knowing whether that kind of consultation has been done and whether there is some ongoing mechanism to see it is done.
Clause 3 of the bill addresses information to be provided by dealers. I think most of us have seen the energy-use labels on various appliances and I think there are a number of places where that clause could be improved.
One of the things that concerns me is that, while the energy use is important, there is the issue of how much energy was used to create it in the first place. We must consider this as an integral and important part of assessing its carbon footprint. I suggest and ask that in future legislation, that particular element of a labelling initiative be added so that this process could be improved.
It is also the case that labelling will be based upon estimates, studies and assessments made in foreign countries. Undoubtedly, many of these appliances are made in China. We have seen all kinds of issues with respect to Chinese health and environmental regulations. If we get a product imported from China, how do we know for sure that the manufacturers' estimates are accurate?
There is a provision for audit in this bill. It is not clear exactly who does the audit, but let us say it is the Government of Canada. What department would do that audit and does that department have sufficient staff and resources to ensure that it is done properly?
Clauses 6 and 7 address reports — one that is every three years — to establish a comparison of energy standards in Canada versus North American jurisdictions. I am assuming that means states and other provinces; otherwise there would not be much of a comparison. The four-year, one-time report would see whether established standards have been implemented for each energy-using product. Clearly, these are important, and the reporting can hold a government's feet to the fire and focus its attention, but it does raise a significant issue. What are the consequences if they do not meet the standards? What if the comparison is not positive? What recourse does anyone have to take this government to the next step?
Clearly, we can address that in the House of Commons and in the Senate. However, there is a great deal of evidence of a government simply denying reports and avoiding action. I am referring to the Kyoto bill, C-288. Reports are required, the government reports, but it is an abysmal failure in achieving any progress on climate change and carbon emissions.
What recourse is there? What confidence can we have that this kind of reporting, without some kind of muscle, would actually accomplish anything it is supposed to accomplish?
What concerns me in addition is that the bill talks about labelling. There is nothing wrong with giving consumers more information. In fact, there is a great deal right about it, but there are so many other things that need to be done to deal with climate change and air pollution that simply focusing in this way on labelling seems to be a drop in the sea.
Is there an effort to elevate this kind of information more broadly to the population of Canada so they can begin to assess information and understand its importance?
Why are there not absolute standards? My wife and I recently bought a dishwasher. We bought the most energy efficient one we could find, but of course there were ones that were far less energy efficient.
Why are not all those dishwashers, washers and dryers held to a standard, a low-emissions energy use measure? I know what the answer will be: It is far more expensive to build a more energy-efficient unit.
I do not know why people accept that at face value. I do not know why it is that it would cost more money to build a more energy-efficient unit than it does to build a less energy-efficient unit.
I think that manufacturers may well use this idea that there is greater value in a lower-energy-use appliance to increase the price. If we are thinking of auditing anything, we should begin to audit the cost to companies that make these machines to find out if there is any justification that they should cost more. Perhaps we need to push for the best possible standard and make it a requirement that every single unit sold in this country must meet those best possible standards or best practices. It would be interesting if this government would actually do that.
I found a slight mathematical or logical problem in Senator Cochrane's presentation. She made the point that the initiatives dealing with standby power in this bill would reduce power usage by as much as 10 per cent per household in Canada. Then she said that this would replace the equivalent of the total energy used by 300,000 Canadian homes.
Of course, I think there are more than 3 million Canadian homes. Therefore, if the power reduction is 10 per cent, it would equate to replacing the energy used by more than 300,000 homes. That is just a small point, but I would like to see those figures clarified because it is critical that the government should begin to take credit for doing something significant in this area when, in fact, it may not be all that significant.
That brings me to my next point. Does the government have any idea of the level of carbon emissions that will actually be reduced by this initiative and how that reduction — if it is calculated — works into their overall plan to, as they say, reduce carbon emissions by 20 per cent in 2020 of 2006 levels? If we are just throwing these figures out and we do not know how they contribute to where we still need to go, then it is not a very effectively-managed program to reach an objective. From what I know achieving objectives, such as winning elections in Alberta, you must have a focus, a plan and people who execute that plan. You must also have audits and accountability to ensure the plan is executed. I do not see any of that here. Therefore, I would appreciate some indication of how much of the emissions will be reduced and how that contributes to the overall reduction that this government says it will accomplish. As far as I know, such a thing has not begun, except for a labelling program.
Another question arises: Will the government actually implement this plan? We saw the Kyoto Protocol, and it was not implemented. We saw an announcement related to cap and trade two years ago and nothing happened. We passed a bill related to fixed-term elections, and it was not followed. The real question is whether this government will actually do what it says.
This issue of energy efficiency is so important and we have waited so long for something that it would be nice to think this is kicking off the next phase and that we actually will get more done.
I want to make the point that while this bill is, to some extent, an achievement — because it is the first thing to be done about climate change by this government in any major way — the fact is that it is a compromise born out of absolute, fundamental frustration. We are facing a huge problem. I know there are people in the world who want to deny the existence of climate change or, worse yet, who say it is not the product of human activity. I will repeat what I said yesterday: The science is so overwhelming. There is such an overwhelming scientific consensus, unlike there has been on other scientific issues. To deny it is, in my mind, tantamount to the leaders of South Africa who deny that HIV leads to AIDS. None of us would deny that because there is overwhelming science.
The science is clear in its conclusion that climate change is occurring because of human activity. There is also much evidence that the same techniques used to discount the fact that tobacco causes cancer are being used by those who want to deny climate change in order to discount the human factor in climate change. I would hope that no honourable senator would go down that path and suggest that climate change is not affected by human conduct because it is.
Why has more not been done? Why has this government not taken this kernel of an effort and built beyond it? Why do we not have the cap-and-trade system we have been told we would get?
I have racked my brain. What do we have instead? All of the Liberal climate change policies have been cancelled. We had in place the government's poster for "climate change initiative," which was the tax credit for people who use buses. They probably need the money, although one would wonder how many of them actually pay taxes.
However, when you analyze that and relate it to reductions in carbon, do honourable senators know what that costs? It costs $800 per tonne. I am not making that up; that figure was in the environment commissioner's report last week.
Do honourable senators know the cost of a single tonne of reduction in the previous Liberal government's "Green Shift" plan? It was $10 per tonne. Do honourable senators know how much it costs to reduce a tonne of carbon in Europe? It costs $14.83 on a proper market. Do honourable senators know what it costs to reduce a tonne of carbon for farmers in Alberta? It costs $6 a tonne. The fact of the matter is that $800 a tonne is appalling, particularly in the absence of any other initiative whatsoever.
Honourable senators, it takes leadership. We have seen leadership in Europe and we have seen leadership in the U.S. We will finally have something imposed upon us because there is no evidence that this government has done anything to prepare for President Obama's cap-and-trade system.
Let us assess the consequences of not doing anything. Immediately, we may be overwhelmed by the U.S. cap-and-trade initiative. That means that we may not have carbon credit markets in Canada so that our businesses and our farms can buy and sell carbon credits in Canada. We will need carbon credits. That is the trade part of a cap-and-trade policy. The Americans will do it. If we want to sell our products to the U.S., we will likely have to parallel what they are doing.
Often, certainly in the early stages, in order to make your cap, businesses have to buy carbon credits — offsets that represent real reductions — elsewhere. If we do not have a market, where will they buy them and sell them? They will buy them in the U.S. Do honourable senators know what that means? All of that money could be invested in Canadian farms. As I said yesterday, I do not know too many farmers who have too much money. It could be invested in Canadian businesses. It could create technologies, cash flow, jobs and investments — all of the things that would stimulate an economy. However, this will happen in the U.S.
Speaking of stimulating the economy, think about the ineffectiveness of some of the initiatives in that stimulus package. For example, if a municipality wants to take part in funding certain initiatives, they have to match them, but they will not have enough money to do so. That will not stimulate anything. However, if we have other people and businesses investing directly in carbon credits, that money goes to businesses and farms so they can stimulate the Canadian economy. Carbon credits represent real reductions — third-party verified, gold standard, international Kyoto Protocol organizations. Instead, we will be stimulating the U.S. economy.
It seems to be a question of having no leadership. The argument is always made that it will hurt the economy. I do not know how that has been drawn out of the ether. It will not hurt an economy. It will absolutely be the next economic and industrial revolution. It will be green and sustainable. We can either begin to provide leadership and get ahead of the curve, or we will be lost.
In Calgary, I was speaking to CEOs of major energy companies and one of them made a profound point. He said we are getting very worried about U.S. indications that they may not want to buy oil from the oil sands could hurt Canada's ability to sell that oil. We have to be ahead of the curve on this.
Yet, what do we see? We see a government — a Prime Minister — who is doing nothing to provide leadership and to sell the idea of the stimulus package. In the economic crisis we face, it is necessary to go out and convince people that it will be okay and that we can have some confidence. Confidence is the key element to get this economy going again.
Equally, the Prime Minister needs to provide leadership on environmental climate change policy. If we do that, he can build an economy and we can create a future sustainable for our children and grandchildren. This is not about us. We can do what is fundamentally right.
If I were the Prime Minister at this point, I would be thinking about legacy. He has been in office through three elections. Who knows if he will do a fourth. This is a remarkable opportunity to create a legacy — to do something exceptionally important and special to allow Canada to be a leader in the world once again.
While this bill takes a tiny step in the right direction and while it is the product of compromise and working together, it is far too little.
I ask Senator Cochrane to take it back to the mix, stand up in her caucus and make some points to thank the prime minister for doing this, but to ask that the minister do something more significant to preserve our climate and our economy for the future.
Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: Would the honourable senator take a question?
Senator Mitchell: Certainly.
Senator Moore: I have been listening closely to the honourable senator's remarks with regard to the cap-and trade system being put in place in the United States. Does the honourable senator see this as the vehicle by which the United States will create a system of protectionism in which the carbon footprint for the production of goods and materials will be assessed and either permitted or denied entry into the United States?
As the cap-and-trade system is put into effect, it could cost Canada real dollars to buy those credits. As the honourable senator suggests, is it now time to put in place proper green production systems to avoid such protectionist measures in the future?
Senator Mitchell: Honourable senators, there are two kinds of protectionism in this context. One is economic protectionism, that is, to hoard their jobs, to hoard their manufacturing and to cut off the trade that is very good for economies. The other kind of protectionism is much more elevated in that they want to protect their health and their children's environment.
In that respect, I think it absolutely could be based on a concept that I would re-qualify as protectionism. Good for them. We should all be protecting our environments and our children's future. I cannot say this strongly enough. It is not about us; it is about children and grandchildren. People talk about family values. What could be a greater family value than giving your children the legacy of a sustainable environment and a new green economy?
However, I divert. I am distracted.
What they will absolutely not protect themselves from is Canadian money going in to buy and sell credits. They will love to have all that money, which will not be in Canada; it will be in the United States.
That raises the question: What does Mr. Harper have in his briefing book today that he will be able to raise with President Obama next week to establish our presence in this negotiation on the cap-and-trade regime?
He probably has nothing, because we sure have not seen it. However, he can point out that Canada has rights in this; that Canada will be prepared to do certain things; that we have levels for caps that we can impose; that we can be competitive; and that he should consider what this does for a North American cap-and-trade policy. Canada is creating a market that would be integrated with the United States that could work effectively.
I come back to the honourable senator's point. The United States will want to protect their environment; they do and they are way ahead of us in that regard. No, they will not protect their economy from our money; they will suck up our money and this government will sit by and watch it happen.
Senator Moore: There was a bill before the U.S. Congress last year. I believe it was from Senator Joseph Lieberman; perhaps Senator Grafstein knows. It was legislation providing for this cap-and-trade system to be effective by 2012, a very short time away. Does the honourable senator have any knowledge of that legislation?
The reading I have done indicates that it was put aside by both parties because they did not want to get into discussions about it. Does the honourable senator know if that will be coming back to the table? If it is three years hence, and I do not know why it would not be, how do we get ready for that?
Senator Mitchell: That is an interesting parallel. This Conservative government has been in office for three years as well. If the United States can do it in three years, you expect Canadians can do it in three years. I think we are as capable as Americans, maybe even more.
In the United States, often when one is burdened with an impossible president — at the end of the Reagan era, there was similar evidence — lots of work goes on in spite of that president. When that president is gone, they are then often prepared to advance breakthrough legislation and policy. I expect the honourable senator will find the United States is quite ready to go and that by 2012 it will be eminently easy for them to achieve their cap-and-trade system.
It is very disconcerting that this government — not to repeat myself too often, but I do not think you can repeat yourself too often on this issue — has given us no evidence that it has prepared for this whether it is for 2012, 2015, or 2020.
This is an abridged version of the Senator's speech. The full text is available at www.parl.gc.ca.