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Future of Our Planet

Q&A With The Minister of Natural Resources, Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson

Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources of Canada

Mediaplanet sat down with the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson to learn more about Natural Resources Canada’s environmental priorities for 2024

What strategic priorities has the Ministry of Natural Resources Canada outlined for the year 2024?

This year, my goal is to make sure the work the Government of Canada is doing to make life more affordable while fighting climate change is even more impactful on Canadians’ lives, pocketbooks, and efforts to fight climate change. To that end, four priorities we’ve laid out for 2024 are:

1. Creating sustainable jobs and industries 

As the transition to a net-zero emissions world accelerates, people must be the focus of the government. It is Canadian workers who will lead this shift, through skills they already have and skills the government can help them acquire. That is why, in 2023, I introduced the Sustainable Jobs Act, which we are working to pass through Parliament in 2024. This legislation establishes a federal framework for putting workers and communities at the centre of decision-making so that, no matter where you work, you benefit from the generational opportunity of a net-zero economy. Work on this topic is also being done through the Regional Energy and Resource Tables we have struck up with provinces and territories across the country, where we are working directly with each province on the issues that matter most to their economy and their citizens, to create opportunities and jobs for Canadians in every region of the country. In 2024, I am focused on continuing to work with provinces and territories, workers, unions, and companies across the country to make sure every Canadian has access to a good, well-paying, sustainable job.

2. Reducing energy bills

Climate change is costly – not just for our environment, but for our pocketbooks. We know that one of the fastest, cheapest ways to fight climate change while slashing the costs of energy bills is to improve our homes’ energy efficiency through retrofits, like a heat pump, or new windows and doors. That is why the Government of Canada has a host of programs to help families undertake retrofits, including the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability Program, the Canada Greener Homes Loan, and a soon-to-be announced second phase of the popular Canada Greener Homes Grant.

3. Preparing for upcoming wildfire, flood, and hurricane seasons

In 2023, Canadians faced the worst wildfire season in recorded history. Annual national costs for fighting those fires totalled over $1 billion, which represents a 60% increase to the annual average from 1980 to 2009. Scientists estimate this could continue to increase by hundreds of millions of dollars – up to an 119% increase from the 1980 to 2009 average – if climate action is not taken. For many provinces, costs that are currently considered extreme are projected to become commonplace, if we do not prepare properly and address climate change.

Unfortunately, 2023 was instructive – showing us the costs that failure to act on climate change would bring to our health, our environment, our economy, and our communities. In 2024, we’re investing millions of dollars to train firefighters across the country and outfit them with specialized wildfire-fighting equipment. We’re also accelerating our efforts on the National Adaptation Strategy, which lays out a framework to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, improve health outcomes, protect nature and biodiversity, build and maintain resilient infrastructure, and support a strong economy and workers.

4. Installing more EV chargers

In just over one decade, all new vehicle sales in Canada will be electric. But every one of those cars needs a place to plug in, and we know that range anxiety is real. That is why we are investing over $1 billion in charging infrastructure and building a coast-to-coast network of fast chargers and installing chargers in local areas where Canadians live, work, and play. We have already announced funding for over 45,000 public charging stations to date, with tens of thousands more to come in 2024 and beyond, especially for rural and remote areas.

Can you elaborate on how Natural Resources Canada plans to lower family’s energy bills while simultaneously advancing sustainable practices?

No Canadian should ever have to worry about how they can afford to keep their lights on or heat their homes. The Government of Canada has several programs for folks all across the country to retrofit their homes and reduce their energy bills and pollution. 

For example, the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability (OHPA) Program helps Canadians who heat their homes with oil make the switch to a heat pump, which could help households save between $1,500 to $4,500 per year on their energy bills. In October 2023, the program was enhanced for those living in provinces that have stepped up to partner with the federal government, meaning that not only do government supports make the average heat pump entirely free for families, but all Canadians who have participated in OHPA will receive a bonus payment of $250.

Canadians can also apply to the Canada Greener Homes Loan, which offers up to $40,000 in zero-interest financing to pay for retrofits like a heat pump, insulation, new windows and doors, or solar panels. Already, over 53,000 Canadians have been approved for the loan – and you could be next.

Finally, on February 5, 2024, I announced that we will soon be launching a new phase of the Canada Greener Homes Initiative, which will focus on energy and housing affordability by offering supports that are more accessible to Canadian households with low- to median-incomes.

Already, well over half a million Canadians have applied for Government of Canada funding to retrofit their homes, and thousands have already put their grant to use and are saving hundreds of dollars on their energy bills every year while contributing to the fight against climate change. As we ready the next phase of the Canada Greener Homes Initiative, and release a Canada Green Buildings Strategy in 2024, the Government of Canada is making sure that affordability and climate action go hand in hand.

Despite misconceptions, carbon pricing is also an affordability measure which puts more money into the vast majority of Canadians’ bank accounts than they pay, to the tune of most households receiving $300 more in rebates than they paid. And not only does carbon pricing essentially pay Canadians to take action on climate change, but economists at the University of Saskatchewan recently found that it is lower income households that will be most negatively affected if payments are reduced, because these families benefit the most from the carbon rebates.

How does the government intend to incentivize the adoption of electric vehicles and what measure are in place to ensure accessibility for a broader range of citizens?

Volatile and growing oil prices mean Canadians are looking to save money and leave emissions behind by switching to an EV. In fact, in the third quarter of 2023, one in eight new vehicles sold in Canada was an EV. Switching to an electric vehicle (EV) means fewer emissions and significant savings through lower fueling and maintenance costs—and these savings increase with every kilometre driven. In fact, independent studies have found that an EV can save its owner in Canada over $3,350 annually.

To help cover the upfront cost associated with buying an EV, the government has bookmarked $2 billion in customer incentives, and will give Canadians who buy an EV up to $5,000 to put towards the cost through the incentives for Zero-Emissions Vehicles (iZEV) program. Through iZEV, over 300,000 drivers have already made the switch to an EV. On top of iZEV, many Canadians can also apply for even more savings through incentives offered by their provincial or territorial government.

Of course, all these EVs need places to charge. For the vast majority of people—about 80 per cent—that charging occurs at home. To ensure everyone has easy access to re-charge, the Government of Canada is investing $1.2 billion to build 84,500 public chargers across the country by 2029, and incentivizing automakers to build charging stations.

The federal government is also stepping up to ensure charging gaps are filled in rural and remote areas. The next round of Natural Resources Canada’s $680 million-dollar Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP) will target investments for public charging in areas such as these that experience infrastructure gaps. ZEVIP also has a specific Indigenous stream that provides funding to Indigenous organizations and communities and works with delivery organizations to distribute funding to smaller projects, often located in rural and remote regions.

Could you provide insight into specific initiatives or programs that will be implemented to ensure job growth across the country, particularly in sectors aligned with environmental sustainability?

The global economy is changing rapidly and we’re positioning Canadians to benefit and thrive. Not only do we have abundant natural resources, but we have skilled, hardworking people who have built the industries that create wealth in every region of this country and will continue to build prosperity in a net-zero emissions future. Those people are at the heart of our economy, and we will ensure these Canadians enjoy the benefits of their hard work.

Our efforts to build and grow the clean economy are already resulting in thousands of jobs across the country. On November 29, 2023, we announced that our new investment tax credits are enabling Dow to build the world’s first net-zero emissions ethylene cracker and derivatives site in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, which will create up to 500 permanent jobs, and up to 8,000 construction jobs. And our efforts to secure deals to bring Volkswagen and Northvolt facilities to Canada will result in up to 6,000 jobs in Ontario and Quebec.

To support workers, industry, communities and regions across Canada, in 2023, my colleagues and I released a Sustainable Jobs Plan that detailed the framework guiding the Government’s efforts to ensure workers across Canada prosper in the net-zero economy of the future. Last June, I also advanced one of the 10 key action areas outlined in that Plan by introducing the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, which holds this and future governments to account in their support for Canada’s workers and a strong Canadian economy for generations to come.

How does the government plan to encourage innovation and investment in energy sources, with a goal of reducing costs for consumers and fostering a green economy?

Since 2015, the Government of Canada has been taking bold actions to spark and support clean-tech innovation and attract investments that will create jobs and economic growth in Canada. 

As the world becomes lower-emissions and more sustainable and global investment looks for low-carbon opportunities with high returns, Canada is punching above our weight. In fact, on the Cleantech Group’s list of the top 100 clean technology companies in the world, 13% are Canadian companies – despite Canada only representing about 0.5% of the world’s population. Through federal programs, certainty measures like carbon pricing, and new investment tax credits, Canada is now ranked third in the world in foreign direct investment, according to the OECD. 

There are industries growing across the country in clean energy, and the federal government is here to spur that growth, whether it is by working with Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs to ensure Canadians on the East Coast are able to seize the potential $1 trillion global opportunity in offshore wind by 2040, or striking an Energy Transition Task Force with the White House to cement North America’s position as a powerhouse when it comes to clean power, critical minerals, and electric vehicles, which will have enormous job benefits for workers and people on both sides of the border.

One example of a growing, thriving industry that the government is leveraging to bring investment to Canada is our battery ecosystem, which extends up and down the supply chain – from lithium mines to minerals processing, to battery and car manufacturers. While building off of Canada’s traditional automaking sector, this is an emerging industry with huge opportunities for Canadian jobs and our economy. 

Therefore, it is no surprise that in February 2024 BloombergNEF found that the federal government’s efforts to catalyze the battery supply have borne fruit, and that for the first time in years, Canada has surpassed China to become the world’s most promising jurisdiction for battery manufacturing. Since 2020, the Government of Canada has secured more than 34 billion dollars in investment in the battery and automotive supply chain, including landmark battery manufacturing facilities like Volkswagen and Stellantis-LG in Ontario, and Northvolt in Quebec. These projects will employ thousands of Canadians and anchor the future of Canada’s EV industry – and we’re just getting started. 

Ultimately, by creating regulatory certainty, providing clear processes when it comes to environmental standards and meaningful engagement with Indigenous Peoples, decarbonizing our electricity grid, and selling Canada on the world stage, the Government is using every tool in its toolbox to foster innovation and bring investment to Canada, which will create jobs, protect Canadians from high prices, and grow an economy that works for all Canadians.

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