Green choices at election time

Published Monday September 20th, 2010

Not surprisingly, issues like health care, economic development and education dominate New Brunswick's election campaign. But what about the environment? And what about the closely-related issue of energy, from which most of our emissions come?

Here's a quick look (alphabetically) at where the four major parties stand on these two critical issues.


The Greens

You'd expect environment and energy to be high priorities for a party with green in its name, and they are. The Green Party is proposing an aggressive switch from fossil fuels to green, renewable energy. It plans to do this by applying a levy of $10 per tonne of carbon on all oil, coal and natural gas consumed in the province, and then using that money - estimated at $500 million per year - to finance the transition. The funds would also be used to improve the sustainability of our forestry, fisheries, agriculture and aquaculture industries. It's a bold strategy: putting a price on carbon is globally advocated as a key policy to solving our environmental challenges, but it's a tough sell politically.

The party proposes to establish a Green Venture Capital fund, to support local green business startups and stimulate investment.

The Greens are also strong supporters of local food, family farms and food self-sufficiency. Their platform lists more than a dozen promises designed to improve the quantity and quality of provincially grown food.


The Liberals

As the governing party, the Liberals are quick to point to accomplishments such as the Climate Change Action Plan, the startup of New Brunswick's first wind farms and strong support for Efficiency NB. All are valid achievements. The Climate Change Action Plan set clear emissions reduction targets for the province, and indications are that we are on track to achieving the goal of 1990 levels by 2012. At least 65 massive wind turbines are now generating power in New Brunswick, and more are under construction. Efficiency NB's programs have expanded greatly over the past four years, helping New Brunswick businesses and homeowners save money, energy and the environment.

The Liberals plan to work with the private sector to develop new green energy sources and make the province a leader in renewable energy. But their vision also includes nuclear power (optimistically, with private investment) and biomass, both of which are rife with environmental concerns.

They vow to establish New Brunswick as a national leader in the construction of energy-efficient homes and apartment buildings, but stop short of promising a mandatory energy standard in the building code. They promise to continue supporting retrofits of existing homes and apartments, with emphasis on low income households.

The Liberals pledge to support the development of a Smart Grid, and promote new construction technologies and innovations. They promise a strategy to help the province take advantage of the new Green Economy - something long overdue.


The New Democrats

In its platform being released today, The NDP is advocating a rapid move toward more renewable energy and continued emphasis on improved efficiency.

To boost investment in renewables, the NDP is proposing a feed-in tariff (FIT) modeled on successful programs already in operation around the world. The program would offer a subsidy to producers of renewable energy, thereby stimulating increased private investment in large and small green-energy projects. The NDP's objective is to have renewables supply 25 per cent of the province's power needs within 10 years, with a significant portion of that coming from individual households and communities.

To promote a green economy, the NDP plans to offer a five-year corporate tax exemption to companies conducting green energy research, development or manufacturing in New Brunswick.

The NDP supports Efficiency NB and its programs. It backs the provincial Climate Change Action Plan, but would pressure Ottawa for leadership in developing national approaches and targets for emissions reductions.


The Progressive Conservatives

The Conservative platform seems a mix of specific promises, perplexing positions and less clear intentions.

For specifics, the Conservatives are promising to work with communities to improve recycling programs so that New Brunswick is no longer the worst recycler in Canada. They are promising to develop a new labelling system to identify provincially grown food products. They are promising to encourage the use of alternatives to electric baseboard heaters. (That's a good thing - baseboard heaters may be cheap to install, but since the majority of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, baseboards are responsible for a large share of the province's winter greenhouse gas emissions.)

Perplexing, though, is a promise to freeze power rates for three years. That may be good politics, but it's a regressive policy from an environmental viewpoint because it serves as a disincentive to efficiency and conservation. The Conservatives promise to support new technologies, such as geothermal and solar systems, except that such systems are already supported under current Efficiency NB programs. They promise to encourage waste management solutions to generate energy - but again, most of the province's landfills are already well down that path.

In the category of less clear, the Conservatives promise to develop an energy policy in consultation with stakeholders; they express support for green and renewable energy sources; they plan to discuss regional initiatives with our Maritime neighbours; and they promise to promote efficiency and conservation. All good words, but few specifics are offered.


Over to you

Please be sure to vote on Monday - it's your one chance every four years to have your say.

And please consider the environment when you choose.

Carl Duivenvoorden is a speaker, writer and green consultant living in Upper Kingsclear. His column runs every other Monday.