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Canada's Energy Strategy Should Not Be Oil-Soaked

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Last week, a number of the members of Blue Green Canada were in Charlottetown P.E.I.

No, we weren't there for the lobster, but to make sure green jobs and climate change stay on the agenda for a Canadian energy strategy when energy ministers from across the country got together.

In late July, Canada's premiers (with the exception of B.C. Premier, Christy Clark) promised to work together on an energy strategy that reduces emissions, spurs renewable energy and energy efficiency and the transition to a low carbon economy. We went to Charlottetown to remind them of that promise.

Blue Green -- a unique alliance of labour and environmentalists -- wanted to throw our support behind the creation of a Canadian energy strategy. Energy powers our economy and impacts our environment. The decisions we make in the next few years will have a significant impact on both, especially given the urgent need to tackle climate change. Now is the time to start making the right decisions.

However, that energy strategy can't be based on the narrow interests of the oil industry. That would lead to too many emissions and too few jobs. Furthermore, increasing our dependence on oil drives up the Canadian dollar which in turn hurts export-oriented sectors like manufacturing and forestry. The petro-dollar also makes our economy vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles typical of oil. In short, it's unwise to put all our eggs in an oily basket.

And we have to put to rest the notion that we need to choose between the environment and the economy, between jobs and our planet's health. There are so many ways to create jobs and cut emissions. In fact, investment in renewable energy creates about three times more jobs compared against similar investments in fossil fuels.

Finally, we wanted to reinforce that energy is not an East-vs.-West issue. Blue Green Canada has members from across the country and we are aligned in our vision for an energy strategy. Canadians from coast to coast to coast support an energy strategy that cuts emissions and creates jobs.

To help make our point to the energy ministers, we took out two ads in the Charlottetown Guardian. One features Roland Lefort, a CEP member working in Alberta's oil sands, who says:

"I work in Alberta's Oil Sands. Like many others, I am concerned with the long-term environmental impact of the uncontrolled development of this vast resource. It's time to reduce emissions, focus on renewables and create jobs to provide energy security to all Canadians."

The other features a steelworker from Sault Ste Marie: "Renewable energy is creating good jobs. I'm proof. The premiers promised to cut emissions that cause global warming. It's time to keep that promise, and create more good jobs like mine," says Eddie Briglio.

The ads were quite popular, and their message was well received.

The energy ministers' meeting itself was a bit of a bust. While a Canadian energy strategy was on the lips of those present, it didn't find its way onto the formal agenda and the formal communiqué is devoid of much substance. Instead, oil interests dominated the meeting as if that's the only type of energy that matters to Canadians. Thankfully, this isn't the case as several provinces forge ahead with clean, renewable energy, greater energy efficiency and in other areas like transit.

It's worth mentioning that Blue Green Canada's members include the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union who represent thousands of people working in Alberta's oil sands. The United Steelworkers also have members who depend on the resource sector. We fully appreciate that the oil sands provides jobs and benefits for many Canadians. But we need to talk about how we transition away from fossil fuels, which is exactly what we said in this piece in the Charlottetown Guardian.

It's unfortunate that the meeting didn't do more to advance the discussions around a Canadian energy strategy. But, based on their promises and actions, many provinces understand what's at stake.

The provinces can take the lead and craft a plan to create good new jobs, cut emissions and spur renewable energy. And, in fact, they have committed to do just this. We look forward to contributing to this conversation as it goes forward.