Canadian federal budget misses mark — by a mile

I want to bang my head against my computer monitor, I really do, but it would be difficult to write this post with blood splatters on my screen.

Canadians got the details of their 2008 federal budget today and, well, let me just say that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper is consistent. New subsidies for the coal, oil and nuclear industries and new handouts to major automakers. No mention of climate change. No extension of incentives for renewables. The cancelling of incentives for buying energy efficient vehicles. Dismissal, once again, of a carbon tax.

I think I’m going to throw up. We’re screwed.

Now, you could say that the promise of $300 million to help Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. finish its latest Candu reactor design, or the promise of $250 million to the oil and coal guys to help with carbon capture and sequestration research, is a decent chunk of change aimed at carbon mitigation. You could also argue that $250 million going to the auto industry for research into more fuel-efficient cars is also “green.”

But let’s start with the nukes. Atomic Energy of Canada, according to most optimistic estimates, could be fully privatizated for $600 million if the government decides this year to go through with it. So what we have now is $300 million of taxpayer’s dollars — half of AECL’s total commercial value, if you’re generous — going towards completion of a nuclear reactor that might not get sold anywhere unless Ontario can be coaxed into buying one. This, you could argue, is money thrown into the reactor core. Poof! Gone. And even if AECL does make a sale and is itself sold, the buyer walks away with a $300 million injection. Name one venture capitalist willing to invest that much — or anything — in nuclear?

Oh, wait a second. Some of that money is going into improving safety at Chalk River. Hmmm… I thought that was already done. In fact, a recent Toronto Star story — citing experts — say there’s not much more you can do to improve safety of the NRU medical isotope reactor. So claiming this money will improve safety is simply theatre aimed at winning political points after the government mishandled the isotope crisis.

Now let’s move to $250 million for CCS, in this case a clean-coal project in Saskatchewan. I fail to understand why government must pay to clean up the mess of industry. Couldn’t a carbon tax effectively deal with this problem? What CCS investment does is two things: encourages the use of coal for electricity generation and the exploration of oil through enhanced oil recovery. In isolation, this investment delays real action because the CCS stuff being funded today won’t have any impact for a decade, likely two. In the meantime, we’ll continue to burn coal and extract oil from the ground at record rates because, hey, CCS is coming so we’ll all be okay. Comforting.

And the automakers? Seems every month I hear about new funding being thrown their way aimed at green, energy-efficient vehicle manufacturing. But there doesn’t appear to be any conditions, and targets, as part of this funding. Also, it ignores the fact that the technology is already here. Research is nice, but what we need is deployment. Meanwhile, the federal government refuses to validate the safety of low-speed electric vehicles on low-speed public roads, despite the fact that 40 U.S. states allow them. Oh, and the incentive for buying these fuel-efficient vehicles is gone. Now that makes sense.

What’s common to all three? Money being thrown at existing industries to help them cope with a changing world they’re not willing to adapt to at their own expense and without a bit of kicking and screaming. Fair enough. Perhaps there is justification to toss them a bone. But what about the emerging opportunities? The next GMs and Fords? We’re so focused on keeping dinosaurs alive that we’re ignoring the potential of those Neanderthals swinging clubs, making wheels and using tools. We’re also ignoring the technologies that exist today, are affordable, are relatively easy to implement, and could easily be promoted through creative revenue-neutral tax policies.

This is where the Harper government is most hypocritical. It doesn’t want to provide too much help to new, emerging clean-energy technologies and companies because it believes these technologies and companies should be able to compete on their own in the marketplace. At the same time, it gives hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the same old group of energy guys who, in most cases, aren’t the ones that truly need the helping hand.

Leadership. Vision. A sense of urgency. Not here. Not from the Canadian government.

17 thoughts on “Canadian federal budget misses mark — by a mile”

  1. Don’t bang your head against your monitor, Tyler. If anyone is to blame, you need look no further than your fellow citizens. We in the United States have a similar problem. Hopefully, we will reconcile that in November. All your Canadian readers need to contact their representatives and make sure their thoughts are made known loud and clear.

  2. Oh my god. You’re right. We’ve had a cold winter. Crap — I guess all that global warming hype was just a load of lies.

    Get real. Climate change is about long-term trends and extremes. An anamoly here and there is expected, and in fact it’s the extremes that should worry. Record-breaking hot summers. Followed by record-breaking cold winters. And I don’t know where you live, but in Toronto we’ve had winter swings of plus 10 degrees C followed a day later by a downward swing of minus 20 C.

    But, you know, read something on a blog and suddenly you know it all. I certainly hope you’re not in a position of authority in my government.

  3. Tyler, you have a great point, but just stop and think about what would cause such violent swings in weather. Obviously it couldn’t be the CO2, since it is increasing steadily. This means that weather is affected by much stronger causes, and the strongest factor is Sun’s level of activity. I suggest you buy an extra big shovel. You will need it in the upcoming years.

  4. Hey Tyler – great points… I suspect that you have put yourself in a lot of bad books in Ontario… you should plan a move to the west coast!! We like people like you!

  5. The sun’s level of activity is always going to have some impact on climate, and at times it will be more pronounced than others. But the fact is long-term trends suggested a steadily accelerating increase in average global temperature that’s consistent with the increase in CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere. BTW: I haven’t heard as much about record-low temperatures as I have about record snowfall. Lots of snow is like saying lots of rain, and it doesn’t say much about the temperature.

    I’m not surprised, though, that in a culture that measures itself by financial quarters that a headline announcing record snowfall in February would have people dismiss global warming as a concern. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  6. I wonder how much of the $240 million for CCS is actually new money or money just being redirected to Encana?

    Last year the same government announced a program to provide $230 million towards CCS. This was the part of a larger $1.5 billion dollar package to be spent over 4 years.

    Most of $230 million I would assume went to Encana, based in Saskatchewan that has been using CCS at their Weyburn oil site for a number of years. Encana receives captured carbon from coal gasification plant in North Dakota.

    I understand this latest series of funds will be directed towards the construction of a clean-coal power plant again in Saskatchewan for SaskPower. One could also assume that SaskPower could sell the same captured carbon to Encana.

    Encana is also the primary investor in the Race Rock tidal energy project in Victoria BC; again another component of the previously announced EcoFund.

    It appears for this government that if you are a fossil fuel company and preferably Encana investing in carbon capture, nuke, oil sands, and/or maybe tidal there is money to be had.

  7. One can only be amazed at how effective industry lobbbying is. The vehicle rebate is cancelled (benefiting which companies?), and the oil and nuclear industries receive a shot in the arm. This is how revolutions start, when governments make such self serving decisons that ignore the needs of the people, in this case the need for clean energy from decentralized sources. The voices from the sustainable energy businesses are growing in volume, but they are not enough to overcome those of the existing giants, that will take time, and a change in government.

    To create that change in government, write your MP that you disagree with spending on carbon sequestration and nuclear energy. Let’s spend the money on efficiency and sustainable energy options that can be deployed across Canada, providing needed jobs and local employment this year, and for years to come.

    Let’s legislate far more efficient vehicles, industry will have no choice but to build them. Funding research for more efficient vehicle design, when existing hybrids have been in the market place for over ten years is just silly, it is just pandering to some noisy (and well funded) lobbyists.

    I bought my very efficient car 8 years ago, why should my tax dollars go to research technology that existed in 2000?

    This government is heading for a train wreck over its lack of meaningful engagement with clean energy options that benefit all Canadians. The sooner they destroy public confidence in themselves through this lack of action, the better. Harper is so brilliantly strategic, but has such terrible grasp of what is important, how sad that such a strategic mind is building such an unsustainable future for us.

    (Re. climate change and this winter. A smooth although exponential rise in CO2 emissions does not necessarily produce a smooth weather change. Systems, such as our climate, do not respond linearly to changes in various parameters. Large dynamic systems have resonant frequencies, over damped, underdamped and step chnage responses to changing variables – this is what climate modellers do, they explore these relationships. There are all sorts of systems (car suspensions, aircraft wings, stock markets, heart rates, etc.) that have complex outputs for seemingly simple changes in input.).


  8. I agree 100% Tyler. And it’s such a boring budget that no one is even paying attention, yet they should.

  9. You know what the whole point of a Democracy is? That when a revolution is necessary (every 50 years or so), you don’t have to use force of arms to do it:). All that is necessary for a “revolution” in a democratic country is for people to actually bother to go out and vote.

    It’s kind of cool when you think about it.

    Anyway, that was way offtopic.

  10. The scary thing is there is no real effective opposition, they bitch and moan then vote with the gov.

    The money being spent here that for example could have gone to Zenn to develop their hiway version but instead will end up with GM and Magna just so they can play catch up with the Japanese car makers. Money given to the old auto makers has been proven to money lost every time, you give them billions and they still close plants. Hand outs should only go with job garentees and sustainable development not corporate welfare for failures.

    Fund Zenn, take the sales tax of zero emmision vehicles, bikes, scooters, cars, fund a high speed rail link would all be good starts. But no this bunch would rather spend money on nukes, coal tech, C-17s and used tanks.

    I pray there is a revolution before they destroy our chances of surviving Peak oil and climate change.

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  12. Boy, are you clueless! Do you have any idea when the last solar maximum was? Hmmm…

    How about the last solar minimum? Hmmm…

    And when were the most powerful solar flares on record emitted from the sun? Hmmm…

    Again, if you knew what you were talking about- I stress, *IF*- then you would not only know the answers to these questions, but it would also be obvious to you that there is very little correlation- let alone causation- between solar activity and climate change.

    FYI, the last solar maximum was in the beginning of 2001; the last solar minimum was in 2006; and the most powerful solar flares ever recorded were emitted in the first half of 2001. Don’t you remember how crazy the weather was, and how hot it was, 7 years ago?? And do you remember how much colder it was, and how much more snow fell, during the end of 2006- compared to the end of 2007 and now??

    Oh wait… !

    Please get a clue. And you’d do well buying that extra big shovel instead of Tyler. With the countless pounds of steamy, brown stuff you’re shoveling in here, you really need it!

  13. Tyler, please don’t move to the West Coast. We need people like you in Ontario, and honestly, I hate people like that west coast guy.


    Oh, and you can put all the pressure you want on our MPs but until the Opposition finds a clue…. At least the Tories are running a minority.

  14. It’s an interesting post, though I haven’t a clue who these people are. And somehow find “global cooling” hard to believe when we’re seeing Arctic ice disappear and entire portions of Antarctica breaking off.

  15. It’s an interesting post, though I haven’t a clue who these people are. And somehow find “global cooling” hard to believe when we’re seeing Arctic ice disappear and entire portions of Antarctica breaking off.

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