Blog Post

Canada and COVID: Great Ambition, Some Progress On An Energy-efficient Recovery

November 18, 2020

Like most parts of the world, Canada continues to grapple with the twin health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Swift action in the spring led to unprecedented spending by the federal Liberal government to provide emergency benefits to more than 8.9 million individuals and enable rent relief and wage subsidies for businesses.

While a brief decline in cases during the summer enabled some space to discuss Canada’s economic recovery, a second wave this fall has again placed immediate focus on managing the pandemic. However, the government has also clearly stated an intention to "build back better" and put energy efficiency front and center in this agenda. It has announced CAD$2 billion in financing to invest in building retrofits and project development, with more likely on the way.

At Efficiency Canada—the national voice for an energy-efficient economy—we have been advocating for efficiency as a tool for economic recovery through our research, communication, and engagement. Despite the relentless advancement of COVID-19, there is some momentum on building back better and greener; this can be characterized as “great ambition, with some progress.”

Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening in Canada, where climate change was a central policy issue in last year’s election. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party narrowly won the election but lost its majority in the House of Commons. As a result, to pass bills and advance its agenda, it needs support from either the official Opposition Conservative Party or the more left-leaning Bloc Quebecois, New Democrat Party, or Green Party. 

Great ambition

The Liberal party embedded energy efficiency in its campaign platform and subsequent mandate letters to relevant departments. It promised to provide free energy audits and interest-free loans to retrofit 1.5 million homes, invest in training and workforce development, and develop a CAD$400 million financing scheme for deep retrofits of commercial buildings.

Indeed, all opposition parties featured energy efficiency measures in their 2019 election platforms, prompting optimism that such efforts would make it into the Spring 2020 budget. The platforms supported everything from stronger building codes and tax credits, to aggressive retrofit targets and Canadian versions of a Green New Deal.

However, with countrywide lockdowns starting in March, those plans were shelved.

Recovery agenda

Throughout the spring and summer, economic recovery was on everyone’s minds in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. We joined a coalition of civil society groups to define a “resilient recovery” agenda, characterized by recovery plans being not only “shovel-ready,” but also “shovel-worthy.” We also continued our advocacy work, considering specific policy actions in three stages: relief, stimulus, and recovery.

The relief stage recognizes the need to provide immediate support for citizens and businesses while physical distancing measures help us reduce the virus’ transmission and alleviate pressure on our healthcare system. The stimulus stage considers activities that can deliver results in 6–12 months to get people back to work, by using existing administrative capabilities and policy programs. And the recovery stage recognizes the critical need to rebuild a more economically and environmentally sustainable economy in the long term.

This resulted in five specific recommendations to invest in workforce training, regional efficiency programs and financing, a retrofit “mission,” and stronger building codes. These recommendations would create more than 132,000 jobs annually, boost average annual GDP by CAD$32 billion, and prevent 20.4 MT of emissions. They were also featured as a core component of a report by the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery, a non-partisan, independent group of Canadian finance, policy, and sustainability leaders.

Some progress

In September, the Canadian government issued a “Speech from the Throne” (yes, it’s filled with all of the pomp and ceremony you would expect from its title), outlining its priorities for a renewed mandate. Once again, it prominently featured energy efficiency as a core element for creating one million new jobs as part of its recovery agenda.

On the heels of the Throne Speech, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) announced CAD$2 billion in financing to “invest in large-scale building retrofits to increase energy efficiency and help make communities more sustainable” and “$500 million for project development and early construction works.” 

The CIB announcement sent a strong signal that the federal government recognizes the widespread and long-term impacts of building retrofits. During a time when Canada continues to experience COVID-19’s second wave, it is imperative that this early signal leads to increased investment that prepares the market for large-scale activities.

There’s a lot more that can be done, including investing in training and workforce development, crafting a robust strategy for residential and low-income retrofits, determining ways to boost retrofit innovation, and accelerating the adoption of net-zero-energy-ready building codes. Each of these activities—combined with budget announcements for long-term program spending—would back up the government’s ambitious promises, all while helping Canada get its economy back on track.

Curious about what’s happening in Canada? Check out the 2020 Canadian Provincial Energy Efficiency Scorecard and follow Efficiency Canada on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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Corey Diamond
Executive Director, Efficiency Canada
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