First, stop giving public money to oil and gas companies

This week, groups across Canada launched a bold plan to fight the climate crisis. The Green New Deal would cut carbon pollution in half and create a million good-paying jobs. All in the next ten years.

Some armchair critics rolled their eyes. “Impossible,” they said. “How will you pay for it?” It’s a good question. Here’s my answer: start with the billions of tax dollars Canada shovels into oil and gas companies.

We’re in the middle of a climate emergency. It’s wrong to keep giving public money to the companies making it worse. Especially when doing so takes funding away from renewable energy, housing, health care and public transit.

Call a spade a spade

The government calls this money “fossil fuel subsidies”. And the Liberals promised to get rid of it. In Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election platform, he promised to “phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry”. Instead, he doubled down.

Trudeau gave $4.4 billion of our tax dollars to the Texas oil billionaires at Kinder Morgan. If he greenlights the Trans Mountain expansion, it will cost at least $10 billion more to build. Meanwhile, Canadians are losing their homes in record floods.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says there’s no contradiction. Giving oil companies money is one thing, she says. Buying them presents doesn’t count. That’s ridiculous. Building an oil tanker terminal with public money is obviously a handout to the oil industry.

McKenna’s office has opened a public comment period. She’s asking for input on how to define “fossil fuel subsidies”. McKenna needs to hear from Canadians demanding she include the Trans Mountain pipeline. Otherwise she’s going to keep saying with a straight face: the Liberals are keeping their promise.

It gets worse

Trans Mountain is a drop in the bucket. Last week, the International Monetary Fund put out new estimates for fossil fuel subsidies worldwide. IMF economists calculate that Canada pumps a shocking $58 billion per year into propping up coal, oil and gas companies.

That is triple what the industry pays back in revenue to all levels of government. In other words, they’re parasites.

Our government shields these companies from the true cost of doing business. They enjoy inflated profits, while taxpayers take the risks. The IMF says simply removing these handouts would cut global carbon emissions by 28 per cent – and boost GDP.

If we’re going to survive the next century, we need to kill the vampire.

This massive bleed of taxpayer money is the single greatest obstacle to a Green New Deal. Canada loses more than $1600 per year for every member of your family. What could we spend that money on instead?

My wish list for Canada

We should start with a huge federal jobs program aimed at laid-off oil and gas workers. We could put hundreds of thousands of people to work in renewable energy, building efficiency or ecosystem restoration. And all those jobs would help slow climate change.

We should expropriate the GM plant in Oshawa and retool the whole thing for electric vehicles. Local auto workers say they could crank out tens of thousands of electric postal vans, transit buses, delivery trucks and cars.

We should make public transit free throughout the climate emergency. That would help people in cities reduce their demand on gasoline – and cut road congestion. That would require a rapid build out of transit infrastructure, which would create more jobs.

With $58 billion a year, we could build dense, affordable housing all over this country – starting in Indigenous communities. We could make people’s lives better immediately. And avoid some of the devastating future costs of climate change.

But first, we have to stop giving public money to the oil companies making it worse. Step one: tell the Environment Minister to include the Trans Mountain pipeline in her list of “fossil fuel subsidies”.