New ecoEnergy money is nice, but it doesn’t erase harm already done

So, it seems the Harper government has plans to inject an additional $400 million into its ecoEnergy home retrofit program as part of Tuesday’s federal budget. This, in part, is being viewed as a compromise to get support from the NDP and dodge a vote of no confidence that would trigger an election.

The ecoEnergy program was a successful energy conservation program that gave incentives to homeowners who added insulation, bought energy-efficient furnaces and air conditioners, and went ahead with other retrofits that reduced home energy use.  The federal government stopped accepting pre-retrofit energy audit requests in March 2010, meaning the program was effectively dead except for those already approved for audits. Officially, the program will come to an end for everyone next week. The expected infusion of new cash into the program will be welcome news for hundreds of businesses that emerged because of the original program.

That doesn’t let the Harper government off the hook, in my mind. The fact is, this government needlessly left an entire Canadian industry in limbo for a year and many businesses have since gone belly up. Many individuals who went to school specifically to become energy auditors were forced to get jobs elsewhere because of the uncertainty created by this government. What is it about politicians not understanding the dangers of creating boom-bust scenarios for industry, especially when it’s so well established that public investment in energy efficiency and retrofits is the lowest-cost way of achieving greenhouse-gas reduction targets?

NDP MP Nathan Cullen put it best last May during proceedings of a federal government Standing Committee on Natural Resources: “The government creates a program. People like it, with 50,000 applications at the high point per month. The government is able to leverage, in tough economic times, $10 for every $1. They put a buck in and ten bucks get put in by individuals. It reduces pollution and it saves Canadians $330 million-odd in energy bills. The government, in its celebration of such a successful program, cancels it.” WTF?

I wrote about the insanity of this decision last year, but only now, when it can be used to its political advantage, does the Harper government throw the industry a bone. Fact is, Harper isn’t pro-business — he’s pro big business — because if he cared about small business he wouldn’t keep jerking their chain like this. Anyway, the $400 million will be welcome news for those businesses that have managed to hold on over the last year. Hopefully, the Ontario government will continue to match the federal incentives, as it did before. Again, if either the feds or Ontario are serious about reducing GHGs, this is the best bang for the public buck. It’s also a great way to boost job creation.

A word of advice to the power’s that be: if you’re planning future changes to this program, do it carefully and gradually, not abruptly and without warning.