PowerBC: NDP plan calls for more clean energy, green jobs

Despite all the excitement about the defeat of the Harper government, in B.C. the political status quo still seems unmovable. Riddled with scandals, and having weathered many dips in popularity over nearly 15 years in office, the B.C. Liberals and Christy Clark nevertheless seem relatively secure in power.

With a year and a half until the next provincial election, the battle lines are already starting to take shape. For opponents of the B.C. government and supporters of the B.C. NDP, after a decade and a half out of power and still reeling from a shocking loss in 2013, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

The first encouraging sign from the NDP is their renewed willingness to take the gloves off with the B.C. Liberals. Under new leader John Horgan, the party no longer hedges or softens their criticism as much. Back when Carole James was in charge, the NDP always seemed to be “concerned” about government measures, rather than actually opposed to them. Under Adrian Dix, the party overdid the collegiality in an effort to avoid a war of personal attacks. Politeness didn’t pay, as the Liberals took low and cheap shots at Dix before and during the 2013 campaign.

Horgan looks more like he’s enjoying himself than any recent NDP leader, and he is not above taking a gratuitous snarky shot at the premier on social media or in the legislature. This change in tone is welcome, but what does the NDP offer in terms of new content?

There was a promising signal last week, as the NDP wrapped up the fall session of the legislature by rolling out an alternative energy and jobs plan for the province called “PowerBC.”

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan. | Photo courtesy of BC NDP

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan. | Photo courtesy of BC NDP

Understandably concerned about being framed by the mainstream media as “anti everything,” the NDP has clearly brought out PowerBC early in order to soften potential attacks against their opposition to the Site C mega-project, which the B.C. Liberals are proceeding to build despite court challenges by First Nations and anger from local residents in the Peace region.

The alternatives outlined in PowerBC are encouraging steps in the right direction. The NDP calls for a province-wide expansion of retrofit programs, which would create jobs while boosting energy efficiency. And it calls for new investments in developing the province’s vast potential for new renewable sources of energy.

The NDP made the PowerBC announcement at the B.C. Institute of Technology campus, highlighting the fact that energy efficiency and wise environmental policy don’t have to come at the expense of good jobs. In fact, addressing the global climate crisis requires a vast buildout of infrastructure for new kinds of energy, requiring a skilled workforce to make the transition off of fossil fuels.

Jennie Moore, an associate dean for Building Design and Construction Technology at BCIT, praised the NDP’s plan: “By far the most efficient way to meet B.C.’s future energy needs is to save energy now. Here at BCIT we showed that it is possible to achieve a 75 per cent reduction in energy demand with deep building retrofits.”

The Sierra Club of B.C. also welcomed PowerBC, although they raised one important concern: “We commend the opposition for recognizing that clean energy can provide jobs for B.C. families while protecting our environment. In fact clean energy can support many more jobs than those in the oil and gas sector. A future with 100 per cent renewable energy is 100 per cent possible. However what goes unmentioned in this plan is also notable, specifically fracking and LNG. It is not possible to be a climate leader and promote fracking and LNG export.”

Indeed. Premier Clark often gives the impression her only plan is LNG, spending much of her time and energy boosting the potential for new fossil fuel exports from B.C. PowerBC is an encouraging first step in a different direction for the province, toward a more diversified economic vision and a more rational approach in a world threatened by climate catastrophe.

Over the next year and a half, it is essential that labour, environmental groups and all of civil society work on clarifying and implementing this vision of a province working on green jobs and powered by clean energy.