12/19/2014 05:42 EST | Updated 02/18/2015 05:59 EST

Harper's All-in Approach to Carbon Puts Our Economy in Danger

Joe Raedle via Getty Images
PEMBROKE PINES, FL - NOVEMBER 15: Melissa Cassidy pumps gas into her car from a pump with a sign indicating the gas is containing up to 10 % ethanol at Victory gas station on November 15, 2013 in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Today, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal to ease an annual requirement for ethanol in gasoline. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

I filled up my car yesterday for fewer than $40. The last time it cost me so little was in 2008. In November, I was shelling out well over 60 bucks every time I pulled up to the pumps, and in the summer, even more. Canadians, especially Ontarians, are becoming accustomed to the volatility of fossil fuel markets. One month, your gas bill is astronomical; the next month, a steal. Contributing to the uncertainty in the market is the Harper Government's failure to regulate our oil and gas industry and its inability to do what it needs to do in order to get Canadian resources to market.

For someone with a Master's Degree in Economics, Mr. Harper seems to ignore one of the most important rules of investing: hedge your bets. Harper's all-in bet on the carbon economy means that when the price of oil goes for a tumble, so does our economy and with it, our petrodollar. CIBC's recent estimates show low oil prices could negatively impact our 2014 GDP by about $13 billion. Our economy shed just shy of 50,000 jobs in November alone. If this is what recovery looks like to the Harper Government, we should be seeking a second opinion.

The current conditions are unsustainable and Canadians get it. In the absence of government action, individuals, other levels of government, and private firms are doing what Mr. Harper refuses to do: investing in renewables, lowering energy costs for their families and pricing carbon. Senior economists are arguing that pricing carbon is a way to take the volatility out of oil and gas pricing (see: "Cost-cutting fever grips oil sands players as economics called into question," and "Why Stephen Harper should love carbon taxes").

Recently, the balance tipped: there are now more Canadians employed in green power generation than working in the non-renewable energy sector. This happened without any support from the Harper Government who has given targeted funding to many other industries including fossil fuel, aerospace and the automobile industry, but little or nothing to green energy. Green energy is creating jobs. This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Federal Government to play a key role in a booming industry, but it is an opportunity being missed because Conservatives like to pick their favourites and meddle in the private market. The green economy is booming in spite of Mr. Harper and we are slowly becoming better off for it.

With green technology becoming affordable, wind and solar farms are popping up across the country. In Ontario, where I spend most of my time, Cambridge, Prince Edward County, Durham Region, Arnprior, Sault Ste. Marie, and Sarnia have all become major centres for photovoltaic (solar) power generation.

Ontario's major investment in green energy and its brisk jog away from coal cannot be ignored. Coal was cheap on our electricity bills but expensive in our hospitals. We were paying dearly for the health effects of its use. Ontario recognized this and made the shift to green energy. Toronto hasn't had a smog day in over two years and I think the residents of our largest city are thankful for that; I know I am. Breathing isn't an optional exercise.

Environmental Defence has made an effort to compare apples to apples. "(N)ew gas generation costs between $85-$296 per Megawatt hour (MWh) and new nuclear generation costs between $87-$143/MWh, while wind energy costs $115/MWh." Even if Ontario had replaced coal with nuclear power, the cost would have been about the same or more. There are no free rides in energy generation.

It's easy to blame the new kid on the block for all of our problems, but it certainly isn't renewable energy causing Canada's energy pricing woes. Over time, as technology becomes more efficient and our storage capacity expands, our energy costs will dwindle.

In Copenhagen, Canada committed to reducing GHG emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. There is no chance that we are going to make this target. If we come anywhere close, we will have individual Canadians and governments like Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec to thank for it, all of whom have priced carbon, one way or another, in spite of Mr. Harper.

Everyone understands that we can't keep burning fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate and expect that our environment will not suffer for it. Canadians are concerned about the future and the Harper Government is writing itself out of history.


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