Round about this time of the year, every year, the federal government hunkers down to prepare the release of its annual budget. And round about this time of year, every year, interest groups across the country fire out “wish lists” on how they would like our government to collect and spend taxpayers’ money.
But this year is a little different. You see, this budget will be the first since Canada ratified the Kyoto treaty on climate change. Only eight weeks have passed since this historic moment, but Canada has changed. We’ve taken some responsibility for our actions and we’ve grown up a little bit. We’ve promised the world that we will reduce the our greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. We’ve set targets and dates to reach them.
What we don’t have yet is an action plan on how to get there. That’s why this budget is so important. The budget sets the country’s priorities for the coming year. And how we use our limited financial resources says something about who we are as a nation. Arguably, we have never faced a bigger challenge to the long term health and welfare of our citizens than we do from climate change. How we choose to meet this challenge will help define us.
If we continue with business as usual – as though nothing has happened – and put off dealing with global warming for another year, we will miss an incredible opportunity. We will miss the chance to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to the environment and to international cooperation. We will spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which will remain there for hundreds of years and make it more difficult to reach our goals. And we will miss out on the economic and health advantages of becoming more energy efficient.
On the other hand, if we build a strategy into the budget that takes advantage of the Kyoto treaty, we will set the groundwork for a smooth transition to a cleaner, more efficient economy. Such a strategy does not mean having to reinvent the wheel. Solutions are out there, we just need to take advantage of them. Rather than just throwing around token sums of money to make it appear as though we are doing something, we need a concerted strategy that makes becoming cleaner and more efficient an ongoing part of everything we do.
We could start with our homes and businesses – where we live and work. Right now, they waste lots of energy, but that’s because there are few incentives for people to change. Establishing low interest loans and financial assistance to make our homes and commercial buildings more energy tight (as is being done successfully by the City of Toronto) would provide encouragement – and save us all money in the long run.
Encouraging clean, renewable energy sources is another good strategy. Developing these sources of electricity – like wind, solar power and micro hydro – would benefit Canadian industries, reduce air pollution and cut our greenhouse gas emissions. We could encourage these industries by phasing out preferential tax incentives for fossil fuel exploration and nuclear power. Over the next four years, this would free up more than $3 billion that could be invested in energy efficiency, conservation or renewable energy projects.
Transportation makes up almost a quarter of Canada’s emissions, so a national plan for sustainable transportation is essential. Such a plan would allocate funding to urban transit improvement, change tax structures to benefit the more efficient shipping of freight by rail and provide incentives that would encourage citizens to buy fuel efficient vehicles.
Canada is a different place than it was last year at this time. In fact, Canada is a different place than it was just two months ago. In ratifying Kyoto, we took a step towards a cleaner, healthier future. Our coming budget will be the first and biggest opportunity to reflect these new priorities.