By Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News
OTTAWA — The NDP will roll out details of its “pan-Canadian” energy plan Wednesday — a plan focused on sustainability, partnerships with provinces and First Nations communities and long-term prosperity, Postmedia News has learned.
Leader Tom Mulcair is expected to announce plans to overhaul and strengthen the environmental assessment regime many critics and environmental activists accused the government of gutting in last year’s budget. The NDP would ultimately overturn cabinet’s ability to unilaterally ignore the outcome of an assessment. Critics fear the new rule would give the government the power to approve a pipeline, for example, even if the project fails to meet environmental standards.
He will also announce the NDP’s intent to bring back the ecoenergy home retrofit program introduced by the Conservatives in 2007. The program, which ended last year, provided grants up to $5,000 to help homeowners increase energy efficiency. Mulcair will also speak about investing in renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy in a bid to create 20,000 new jobs in Canada, and in rail, tanker and pipeline safety standards to encourage energy projects rather than stymie them due to disasters and protests.
He will also talk about the possibility of a national version of an initiative he introduced in Quebec when he was that province’s environment minister. Quebec’s Europe-inspired Sustainable Development Act, something Mulcair often talks about as his crowning achievement in provincial politics, affirms the government’s commitment to the concept, which requires that economic, social and environmental impacts be taken into account before development decisions are made. The bill also made it a right under Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to live in a healthy environment in which biodiversity is respected, and created a green fund to support provincial and municipal sustainable-development initiatives as well as provide stable funding to environmental groups.
Mulcair is expected to make the announcement during a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa.
It follows a promise during the party’s September caucus retreat in Saskatoon where he vowed to focus more on “proposition” — that is, on unveiling what the party would do if it formed the government — instead of just opposition.
At the time, he said the NDP would reveal details of a “pan-Canadian” energy plan in the fall, and while the Senate expense scandal that has dominated the fall agenda raised questions about whether the plan may be scuttled, natural resources critic Peter Julian has insisted it won’t be.
“We’re continuing on with the work of showing leadership and developing an energy strategy and to put out there some of the major elements that will be part of the conversation over the next year,” said Julian, who was tasked with leading efforts to prepare the party’s energy strategy, which has taken him across Canada and to Europe. Along with Mulcair, he’s also visited a number of First Nations communities.
“Some of the things are things we’ve signalled already and others are new elements, but what it does is send a signal that in our opinion it’s very important to have an adult conversation around energy issues,” he added, noting that the Conservatives merely “condemn” those who raise questions about their “superficial approach,” largely focused on exporting raw resources.
“We need to have an adult conversation about the future of Canada when it comes to our natural resources and our energy resources … and I think that that adult conversation really gets launched (Wednesday).”
Here’s a look at what Mulcair has said in the past on energy:
He’s against the Keystone XL pipeline. He says it’s “not in Canada’s best interest” because it would export raw bitumen and more than 40,000 Canadian jobs to the United States.
He’s against the Enbridge Northern Gateway project — a 1,177-kilometre pipeline that would transport 525,000 barrels of oil per day from near Edmonton to the port of Kitimat, B.C. From there, the product would be loaded onto supertankers and shipped to Asian markets.
The NDP would prefer see product shipped to Quebec and Atlantic Canada through projects like TransCanada‘s proposed Energy East pipeline which, Mulcair argues, would keep value-added jobs in Canada.
Mulcair has softened his tone on Kinder Morgan’s proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to B.C. Former B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix’s decision midway through the election campaign to oppose the pipeline was considered a contributing factor in his party’s loss.
Mulcair does not support a carbon tax on fuels, but has called for a cap-and-trade emissions-reduction scheme based on a principle that “polluters pay.” It’s a system not unlike the one the Conservatives previously supported.
He argues Alberta’s oilsands are to blame for inflating the Canadian dollar and killing manufacturing jobs in Ontario. He calls it the “Dutch disease” and it’s got him in hot water on a number of occasions.