Mar 13, 2009

The wrong kind of stimulus


I am a big fan of stimulus packages for our ailing economy. But my pitch has been that we need to use the occasion to retrofit our economy to be on a more sustainable footing. So it matters a great deal on what we spend those stimulus dollars. If we launch projects that take us even further away from a sustainable economy, we are squandering those dollars.

Case in point: as reported in the Sun, the government is announcing a $187 million road upgrade from Fort Nelson into BC’s oil and gas fields. This initiative will create 1,100 jobs, but is a blatant subsidy to the oil and gas industry, the source of 20% of BC’s greenhouse gas emissions (much more if we were to consider the emissions from burning that fuel out of province). Environmental NGOs have long been critical of subsidies to the oil and gas industry, and rightly so. What if the government lived up to the aspirations of its Climate Action Plan and put $187 million into green retrofits of buildings and alternative energy development?

Another obvious case is the $5 billion Port Mann super-bridge (well, $3.3 billion and rising). Its effect will be to create even more suburban communities up the Fraser Valley, locking in an unsustainable form of development for generations, and quite possibly at the expense of some of the best farmland in the province, which we will need down the road. The bridge will create lots of jobs but would we not be better off if we created those jobs as bus drivers by buying more buses to get people over the existing bridge more efficiently?

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