If O'Toole has a Problem with Big Green Spending, He should Take it up with Biden, not Trudeau

  • National Newswatch

Last week, Erin O'Toole held a press conference in which he attacked Justin Trudeau's plan to “build back better.” His sights are on the wrong man. If O'Toole wants to challenge the approach, his real opponent is US President Joe Biden. And that puts things in a different light.Defeating the virus is currently Canadians' No 1 concern but, as O'Toole says, the pandemic will come to an end. When it does, he thinks Canadians will have to make a critical choice about how to deal with the recovery.On one hand, there is Trudeau's plan, which O'Toole says is based on “risky, ideologically driven and unproven schemes.” On the other hand, there is O'Toole's Conservative alternative, which is focused on jobs, wages, and getting Canada's economy and finances back on track.O'Toole apparently sees this as a no-brainer, at least for Conservatives. After all, Conservatives don't trust big government schemes. In their playbook, governments don't pick winners and they are prudent with public finances.But you don't have to be a Liberal to find his analysis wanting. It's not just the hyperbole or even the lack of a detailed plan. It's the way O'Toole sees – or fails to see – what is happening in the global economy.[caption id="attachment_537451" align="alignnone" width="650"] Biden's green plan is a wake-up call for Canadians, telling them that America's commitment to transition to a sustainable economy is genuine and deep.[/caption]The idea that the thoughtful response to these tumultuous times is to batten down the hatches – to think small, not big – flies in the face of everything that is going on.Last week, US President Joe Biden began rolling out a US$2 trillion plan to invest in green technology and renewable energy. Elsewhere, China and India are working furiously to become global leaders in cleantech. Europe is a huge investor in renewable energy.Countries like these are already steaming ahead with their recovery plans, which are hardly steady-as-she-goes. Once the virus is under control, they will invest even more heavily in the green shift. From O'Toole's perch, maybe this looks frivolous, but the case is clear, starting with the science.The 2018 United Nations IPCC report gave the world 12 years in which to cut greenhouse gas emissions or face catastrophic effects from global warming. Since then, once-in-a-century floods, raging bush fires, and increasingly ferocious hurricanes have begun to seem like annual events.This is reason enough for governments to think big about green spending, but what should really give O'Toole pause is that these countries are not just trying to save the planet. They are positioning themselves for the future. This is as much about prosperity as public safety.Maybe O'Toole hasn't got the memo yet, but the debate over whether governments should invest in the transition is over. Increasingly, the pressure to get on board is coming from economists, not just climate scientists. Even Wall Street has decided that green is the way of the future.There is a new economic zeitgeist, and it is the antithesis of O'Toole's conventional conservatism. It sees inaction as deadly to a nation's prosperity, while investment and growth are the best shot at increasing it. In short, it tells us to Think Big.As for Biden's green plan, it is Canada's wake-up call, telling us that America's commitment to the transition is genuine and deep. That matters. We are a trading nation and America is our most important partner. Over $900 billion worth of goods and services were exchanged in 2019.Our challenge now is to figure out how to leverage this relationship for the future. There are huge opportunities, from the rise of electric vehicles to a vast new continental hydroelectric grid to carbon sequestration. We have the industry, infrastructure, skills, and relationships to transform our energy sector and our economy and to become leaders in a sustainable economy.However, Canadians are also huge producers and consumers of hydrocarbons and that is ground zero in the green explosion. Economic and political forces are aligning against these industries and there will be collateral damage – more Keystone XLs, disruptions in the auto sector, and so on.The impact will be painful and divisive. It could prevent our governments from making the decisions we need for a successful transition. To deal effectively and fairly with the costs and benefits of transition, Canadians need a plan that brings us together around the goal, rather than dividing us over it. That's what O'Toole should be putting on the table.There is room here for ideological differences, but as ordinary Canadians get sight of the wave that is rolling in, they will be far less concerned about whether a leader's views lean to the right or left of centre. They will care which leaders they think can best help them understand and navigate through this period of colossal change.So, O'Toole is right, an important choice lies ahead for Canadians, but it is not between prudence and grand schemes; it is not even between conservative and progressive principles. It is about whether we see change as an opportunity or a threat. It is about whether Canadians can come together around a plan for building a green future.Dr. Don Lenihan is Senior Associate at the Institute on Governance and an internationally recognized expert on public engagement, governance, and policy development. For more, visit his website at: www.middlegroundengagement.comAndrew Balfour is Managing Partner at Rubicon Strategy in Ottawa.