'We require active, engaged federal leadership'

The prepared text of Michael Ignatieff’s remarks to the Vancouver Board of Trade this afternoon.

Thank you Zach (Bhatia) for those kind words.

I’d also like to thank the Board of Trade for hosting us, and Jason (McLean) for your introduction.

It’s good to be back in Vancouver.

I started my working life out at UBC and I love this place. Every time Zsuzsanna and I come back we feel the excitement of a great world city.

Now the Olympics will spread the excitement of Vancouver to the whole country. When the torch relay starts, Canadians from coast to coast to coast will be lining the streets to watch them pass.

We owe British Columbians a debt of gratitude for what you’ve given our country. You’ve brought us together.

Yesterday I came in on the Canada Line. Did the same thing last time I was here.

You’ll allow me a little partisan pride here. The federal partner that invested in the Canada Line was the Liberal government of Paul Martin and Jean Chretien.

Compare the record of the Conservative government:

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, it’s impossible to say how many jobs their stimulus program is actually creating.

Nos propres chiffres indiquent que seulement douze pourcent des sommes prévues pour les infrastructures ont véritablement atteint nos communautés; et trop souvent, ce sont pour des projets électoralistes dans des comtés conservateurs.

Our Party invested in the Canada Line and the Pacific Gateway—and delivered both.

Our Party balanced the books in the 90s.

Eleven years ago, Paul Martin came to this Board of Trade and stopped the National Debt Clock.

Now it’s back. It’s up on your website.

The Conservatives spent us into deficit before the recession began. When the crisis hit, the Canadian cupboard was bare. And they still haven’t told us where our finances are headed.

Thirty-two billion. Fifty billion. Fifty-six billion.

You can’t count on a government that can’t count.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has been right when the Conservatives have been wrong. A Liberal government would make his office fully independent, with the resources necessary to do his job.

Because no government should ever get between Canadians and the truth we deserve.

Right now, recovery is neither steady nor certain.

Employment is rising in the public sector, but it is stalled in the private sector.

Freight movements are down between twenty and thirty percent.

Ocean shipping rates are the lowest they’ve been in a quarter of a century.

No one yet knows whether recovery will take hold, or how strong it will be next year.

We Liberals believe in markets. But we don’t believe in market miracles. We don’t believe we will get sustained growth back into the economy without a strategy. And you don’t get a strategy without a strong, active federal government that invests for the future.

Smart investments now—like the Canada Line—will sustain growth in this city and this province for decades to come.

Now is the time to invest more, not less, in Canadian know-how, innovation and discovery.

Our universities, our colleges, our institutes of research: these are the incubators of our future. The federal government needs to sustain them, not cut them.

We need to stand up for Canadian champions and Canadian high-tech, not stand by and watch them get sold off to our competitors.

Now is the time to go where the growth is. The U.S. consumer is not likely to dig us out of recession. We need to boost Canadian market share in India and China.

In B.C., you know that Canada is a Pacific power. I don’t think they understand that in Ottawa.

Now is the time for Canada to lead at the G-20 in proposing new global financial regulations—to provide stability for Canadian pensions and investments in a turbulent global market place.

We’ve got a great central banker, Mark Carney. Our banking and financial system enjoys global prestige. Let’s leverage those assets at the Huntsville G-8 to lead the way to a more stable, secure and reliable financial system.

Now is the time, above all, for Canada to get serious about clean energy. That’s my core message today.

Nous devons investir aujourd’hui dans l’énergie propre et renouvelable.  Ces investissements vont débloquer l’économie verte de demain.

We can’t afford the price of indifference.

We’ve just seen an entire Fraser River sockeye run evaporate. Millions of salmon just didn’t show up.

Ask upstream communities about the consequences. Ask Aboriginal communities. Ask fishers. Experts are already talking about a connection with climate change.

We need an urgent, independent public inquiry, using the best ocean and climate scientists to figure out what happened, and how we can to keep it from happening again.

We’ve also seen B.C.’s forest landscape scarred by the Mountain Pine Beetle. We aren’t getting the cold snaps up in the Interior that we’ve had for thousands of years, and it’s killing our forests, leaving us more vulnerable to fires in the summer.

So for British Columbians, climate change is not a distant abstraction. It’s here, and it’s hurting, right now.

Under the Conservative government, we’ve had three plans on climate change, and no action. We’ve wasted nearly four years of vital time.

So there is an imperative to act now, to make us more energy efficient, to grow our renewable energy and clean technology sector and, by doing both, to tackle climate change.

L’énergie propre, c’est un moyen pour développer notre économie et pour que nos enfants et nos petits-enfants grandissent dans un Canada meilleur, plus fort et plus prospère.

Look what the rest of the world is doing:

Global investment in clean energy technologies was a hundred and fifty billion last year.

Germany has created more than two-hundred-and-fifty thousand clean energy jobs. They’ve cornered sixteen percent of the global market.

Denmark gets a fifth of its electricity from wind. In Spain, it’s thirteen percent.

And Canada? Where do you think we stand?

Just one percent of our power comes from renewables like wind and solar.

We’re not partnering with Canadian innovators and entrepreneurs—some of whom are in this room—to take our best clean energy ideas global.

We can do better.

China’s stimulus package is putting two-hundred-and-thirty billion dollars into clean energy and green infrastructure projects. Two-hundred-and-thirty billion.

In the U.S., President Obama is putting six times more per capita into clean energy and research than Stephen Harper.

Canada is investing less in renewables per capita than the State of Alaska.

So when it comes to clean energy, Stephen Harper isn’t just behind Barack Obama. He’s behind Sarah Palin.

Clean energy changes everything. Not getting into the game now is like taking a pass on the internet back in 1995, and investing in transistor radios.

The jobs of tomorrow are being created elsewhere as we speak. Either we act now, or we spend the next decade wishing we had.

Pendant que notre gouvernement ignore les possibilités de l’énergie propre, le Canada est devenu l’un des dix pires pollueurs de la planète.

Le pire du G8.

For more than two decades, Canadian leadership on the environment didn’t belong to one party.

Liberals and Progressive Conservatives each made environmental progress in their turn.

But today, when the whole world is coming together to fight climate change, Canada is nowhere to be found.

A few weeks ago, the U.N. Secretary-General hosted a global summit on climate change. Mr. Harper didn’t even show up.

At another international meeting last week, in Thailand, Canada’s position actually prompted a walk-out by the Group of 77 developing countries.

I’ve talked recently about restoring Canada’s place in the world. It’s very simple: we won’t be taken seriously until we are serious about the environment.

Notre stratégie libérale commence par un engagement simple :

Au cœur de notre prochaine plateforme se trouvera le plus important investissement jamais vu au Canada pour développer les énergies propres et créer de nouveaux emplois durables.

Our Liberal strategy begins with one, simple commitment:

At the heart of our next platform will be the most significant national investment in clean energy jobs this country has ever seen.

What does that mean?

It means we start with a relentless commitment to power Canada on clean energy.

Right now, in the middle of a recession, oil is trading at about seventy dollars a barrel. A year ago, it was twice that. And as the global economy recovers and demand picks up, we’ll face a fresh round of high energy costs.

In one respect, this is good for Canada and good for British Columbia. We are a resource economy with a strong energy sector. Natural gas in B.C. and the Maritimes. Oil in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

But high energy costs hurt Canadian families—and every other sector of our economy.

That’s why a Liberal government would make renewable power a national priority. We would work with business, communities, and all orders of government to design effective fiscal and tax incentives that encourage new renewable power projects.

This morning I was at the Day4 Energy plant in Burnaby, where they’re re-inventing the solar panel. The engineering that’s going on there, and the innovations in electrode design, are world-leading.

B.C.’s own NexTerra is a world leader in biomass energy technology. Westport Innovations is leading the world in efficient fuel systems for the trucking industry.

There’s work like this happening all over Canada. But our scientists and our entrepreneurs need the backing and the incentives only a strong federal government can provide.

We also need to work with the provinces and territories to be a catalyst for promising new technologies. By encouraging expanded feed-in tariffs for wave, tidal, geothermal, biomass, and other renewables, we can make Canada a clean energy leader.

The Conservatives are cancelling the flagship federal renewable power program, ecoENERGY. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the comparable program was extended until 2012.

Cancelling ecoENERGY sends the wrong message to investors, scientists and entrepreneurs.  We Liberals would send a different message: go for it!

But we’d do more than develop new renewable power sources. We want Canada to become the most efficient user of energy in the world.

A Liberal government would make landmark investments in clean energy infrastructure, especially “smart” electrical grids. We can’t afford the electricity that we generate to be wasted on its way to our homes.

Smart grids are the kind of strategic infrastructure we should be building now, as we look beyond the recession, to kick-start our economy and get us growing again.

Forward-looking clean energy investments will give us real credibility in the global fight against climate change. We should back that up with Canadian proposals for a continental cap-and-trade system, with hard caps.

We need to work with Washington, but we can’t just wait for Washington. If we keep refusing to drive the agenda, our vital interests, our cross-border trade, and our future competitiveness will all be put at risk.

En investissant massivement et à long terme dans les énergies propres, nous allons restaurer la crédibilité du Canada dans la lutte contre les changements climatiques.

Nous allons militer en faveur d’un système continental de plafonnement et d’échange de carbone associé à des cibles de réduction d’émissions absolues.

Let me be clear: investing in renewables, technology, efficiency and clean energy infrastructure does not mean we undermine our own energy sector. Quite the opposite: our energy resources will be the most powerful tool we have for creating clean energy jobs.

Canada is an energy powerhouse. But we have work to do before we can be a clean energy powerhouse. Our energy industry knows this.

We need to invest aggressively to clean our own fossil fuels—through emerging technologies like carbon capture and sequestration—to keep our energy sector strong and globally competitive. We need to maintain our export advantages in oil and gas within an integrated North American energy market—and in other markets.

We can do this. Right here, right now, at the Clean Energy Research Centre at UBC, researchers are working on clean-burning engines, biomass storage techniques, fuel cell and hydrogen systems, and carbon capture.

We can thank B.C.’s technology pioneers—firms like McDonald Dettweiler and Ballard Power—for setting the stage for Canada’s “CleanTech” innovators.

But these firms are being courted by governments all over the world. We need to give them reasons to keep building in Canada.

We have the talent. We have the know-how. What we need is real commitment to supporting Canadian research and innovation. A Liberal government will provide it.

The next challenge is getting Canadian clean energy and environmental technologies to market.

China and India are investing billions in technology development and clean energy infrastructure. This is a colossal opportunity for Canada—one we can’t afford to sleep through.

But our market share in both China and India has fallen since the Conservatives took office. We’ve run our first trade deficits in thirty years.

A Liberal government would learn from our success under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin—and bring back the Team Canada trade missions.

We’d enhance our commitment to our Pacific Gateway, and harness the power of our own population—the incredible diversity that makes Vancouver what it is—to build bridges to new markets and new opportunities.

We’d also build a new understanding with the Americans. “Buy American” protectionism, Country of Origin Labelling, and new passport rules are hurting our manufacturers and farmers, our trade and tourism—and the Americans’, too.

We can reduce demand for imported energy by investing in clean energy at home. Investing in clean energy at home means we can create technologies that we can export to emerging markets overseas.

Our trade deficit stood at two billion dollars in August. Investing in clean energy is central to digging ourselves out.

But there’s an even more direct role that government can play.

The federal government is Canada’s biggest employer, biggest landlord, and biggest consumer of goods and services. A Liberal government will use our capacity to “test bed” new technologies. We would set mandatory clean-energy procurement standards.

Government vehicles will be cleaner and government buildings will be energy-efficient. We will follow the B.C. government’s lead and look at ways to introduce telecommuting to our public service, to keep cars off the road.

These are the three steps a Liberal government will take, to power Canada on clean energy:

We’ll invest in clean energy in new and traditional sectors.

We’ll build our “smart grid” infrastructure and help businesses and families become more energy efficient.

And we’ll set an example as a federal government.

Three steps to create the clean energy jobs of tomorrow.

Nous allons brancher le Canada sur l’énergie propre. Nous allons créer les emplois verts de demain. Nous allons faire mieux que nous relever de la crise. Nous allons restaurer ce leadership mondial qui a fait la réputation du Canada.

We require active, engaged federal leadership.

In the last few years, the provinces, territories, and municipalities have done an admirable job filling the void left by Ottawa.

Le Québec développe de nouveaux projets hydroélectriques, notamment pour exporter de l’énergie propre en Ontario et aux États-Unis.

Two weeks ago, speaking to this Board of Trade, Mayor (Gregor) Robertson set out his Vancouver Green Capital strategy. He plans to make Vancouver the Greenest City on Earth by 2020—building on the Olympic legacy and setting an example for the country.

And just a week ago, the B.C. government, B.C. Hydro, and the City of Vancouver announced a new agreement with Nissan to bring its new electric car to B.C. in 2011—a year before it arrives elsewhere.

Canadians are embracing the clean-energy revolution that’s coming right at us. It’s time the federal government did the same.

What this all comes down to is a sharp contrast in visions of what government can and must do.

The Conservatives are waiting for recovery, waiting for the private economy to pick up the slack when the public investment winds down. We Liberals believe in a more active vision. We must invest now to make recovery sustainable and enduring.

Think of the Canada Line: investments begun a decade ago will help Vancouver’s economy for a generation.

Think of those Liberal investments in Canadian science and technology. We rebuilt Canadian higher education in the 1990s, so the jobs of tomorrow will be there—if we sustain investment—when the recession grinds to an end.

It’s the same with clean energy investment. If we do this now, we will be in the game a decade from now. If we don’t, the world will pass us by, and our children will pay the price.

That’s what we have government for. To anticipate. To plan. To look beyond the immediate horizon to grasp the unseen challenge and turn it into an opportunity.

This is the kind of government Canadians are looking for. Responsible in the deepest sense. Responsible to Canadians. Responsible for Canadians. And responsible for the future we want to leave our children.

Thank you.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.