Two of Canada’s greatest attributes these days are perhaps its economy and natural environment.
The country has a relatively healthy and productive economy which funds our expectations in quality of life, healthcare, education and retirement. Our abundance of natural wealth – our wilderness and farmland, lakes and mountains, rivers, forests, minerals and energy sources – is unparalleled.
How to manage the two in a way which benefits both is perhaps Canada’s most profound public policy challenge.
The Ecofiscal Commission
The modern view is that the economy and environment are not so much in opposition as people once thought. Just as economic development funds conservation, natural wealth enhances our quality of life through the beauty of landscapes and cleaner air and water, and underpins the economy through jobs in fishing, tourism, forestry, energy, mining and agriculture. From this perspective, preserving and conserving our natural wealth is not an overhead but an essential contribution to economic success.
Developing and researching these ideas is the mandate of a new public policy voice launched last year. Called Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, the Commission is made up of Canadian economists. There is also an advisory council comprised of leaders with political, business and environmental backgrounds, of which Suncor's president and chief executive officer, Steve Williams is a participant.
The organization is analyzing and reviewing “ecofiscal” policies – tax and pricing policies which encourage beneficial economic activities (e.g. job creation, investment and innovation) and reduce those we don’t want, such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution.
Done right, ecofiscal policies incent investment in innovative technologies so Canada can continue benefiting economically from its natural wealth while also better protecting the environment. In fact, ecofiscal policies can create a positive kind of virtuous circle. Revenue generated from ecofiscal taxes and fees can be used to create further economic benefits, such as reducing income and payroll taxes or by investing directly in new technologies and critical infrastructure.
A proven approach
Ecofiscalism is not just a pipe dream. In London, England it is being used through congestion fees to reduce traffic levels at peak times. Money raised is spent on more public transport. In Germany, charges for non-recyclable waste collection help maximize recycling levels and reduce demand for scarce landfills.
In open societies such as Canada, there’s no shortage of groups and individuals with thoughts and opinions about how governments can better govern their jurisdictions. There’s certainly plenty of free advice these days on topics like the environment and the economy, but it’s not always integrated into public policy. Will Ecofiscal fare any better?
We think it will. Ecofiscal is a serious and practical attempt to have a well informed and thoughtful debate about the tools to encourage economic growth and environmental protection. Instead of pressuring governments to choose one over the other, Ecofiscal urges governments to choose both, through policies focused on smart growth and targeted protection. Compel the economy to look after the environment, the logic goes, and protection, conservation and ensuing benefits will flow naturally.
GHG emissions, water, air, transportation
Ecofiscal is committed to researching and recommending approaches for policy makers grappling with issues relevant to Canadian provinces and cities. A variety of matters are in scope, from fresh water and air quality to environmental disasters and GHG emissions, to transportation and road congestion.
Ecofiscal is poised to be a rational and constructive contributor to Canada’s biggest debates, including discussions about energy development. And that bodes well, not only for policy makers, but for all Canadians.