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Christopher Dummitt: Four ways Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives can fight woke ideology

Commentary

People gather during a rally at Simms Park in Courtenay, B.C., June 5, 2020. Jen Osborne/The Canadian Press.

By this point it ought to be clear that a future Pierre Poilievre government—despite Liberal fear-mongering—isn’t going to undo Canada’s widely accepted status quo on things like gay marriage and abortion.

But this leaves us with a question: if older social conservatism is out, what could a modern conservative social policy look like?

A new book by British-based Canadian political scientist Eric Kaufmann shows one possible way forward. For several years now, Kaufmann has been at the forefront of those explaining the takeover of our politics and institutions by woke activists and ideas.

Canada is the canary in the coal mine, an example of what happens when a country gets taken over by woke ideology. Whether it’s legally enshrined discriminatory hiring based on DEI quotas or racially based sentencing in the courts or the wholesale takeover of our schools by progressive woke orthodoxy or the public rituals of national humiliation as we saw with the mass graves moral panic, again and again, Canada has been an international symbol of a country that has shown almost no resistance to this illiberal mind virus that sells itself as progressive.

So far conservative premiers and federal Conservative leaders have largely stood back and allowed it to happen. They seem to fear a possible blowback with the inevitable accusations of racism, sexism, or homophobia.

Kaufmann calls this woke’s “radioactive velvet glove.” It hides its illiberalism under the gauze of liberal ideas of inclusiveness and non-discrimination. But not so fast, Kaufmann says. The new woke issues aren’t like those in the past. Fighting discrimination against women and the LGBT community was part and parcel of good liberalism that goes hand in hand with economic fiscal liberalism.

But on topic after topic, from so-called gender-affirming care for adolescents to discriminatory anti-white or anti-Asian DEI policies, wide swathes of the public are not with the woke elite. And, what’s more, the woke ideas don’t align with good liberal beliefs held dear by most Canadians, conservative and many non-conservative alike.

The real question is: what can be done? What could a Poilievre government do to counteract the woke movement?

Kaufmann outlines a 12-point plan but I’ll simplify it to four points and a coda.

Kaisha Bruetsch: The economic case for clean electricity is now undeniable—just ask Ontario

Commentary

A boy walks across a field towards wind turbines as the sun sets north of Orono, Ontario on Tuesday Dec. 18, 2018. Doug Ives/The Canadian Press.

Over the past year, the Ontario government has begun to lay out a vision for transforming how the province generates, stores, and uses electricity. This includes important investments in Ontario’s clean-energy future—investments that need to be followed with even more ambitious policy to grow the province’s low-carbon economy over the coming decades.

The government’s recent procurement of nearly two gigawatts of battery storage is nothing short of transformational. Battery storage projects at this scale would have been unimaginable even five years ago. The new batteries are coming hot on the heels of five gigawatts worth of new wind and solar capacity announced last year. Soon, renewable energy and batteries will meet the electricity needs of millions of Ontario homes.

This new clean energy investment represents a change in direction for the government. But anyone still suggesting that Premier Doug Ford has flip-flopped on renewable energy may not be keeping up with the pace of technological change. The economic case for new clean electricity is now undeniable.

Ontario’s prior missteps with clean electricity are well known. The previous government’s Green Energy Act offered renewable energy project developers guaranteed premium prices for their power that far exceeded fair market value. It threatened to undermine energy affordability in the province. The Ford government quickly repealed the Green Energy Act when it was elected in 2018 and until recently was reluctant to risk driving up energy prices by making new investments in renewables.

Six years later, we’re in a new economic and technological reality. The cost of batteries has plummeted by 80 percent in the last decade. Since the repeal of the Green Energy Act, the cost of wind power has fallen 40 percent and the cost of solar roughly 30 percent. Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) now expects to pay less than half as much for new renewable energy generation than in the mid-2000s. More cost declines are forecast. The investment case for zero-carbon energy will only get stronger.

The challenges facing the provincial government now are not what they were when they took office. Demand for electricity is set to grow steadily for the first time in decades, much of it driven by industry: as the government acknowledged last year, “access to clean energy is a critical input for businesses making investment decisions.” IESO forecasts that electricity demand will increase 60 percent by 2050, or about two per cent per year. The new supply required to meet that demand is the equivalent of adding a new large CANDU reactor to Ontario’s grid every two to three years.

That rate of demand growth could even accelerate with the right supporting policies. For Ontario to fully lean into its electricity advantage, some modest policy changes can help produce economy-wide incentives to ensure supply keeps up with demand for low-carbon electricity. For instance, as we argued in a recent report on nuclear power, Ontario can build on its clean electricity advantage by making small tweaks to the province’s Emissions Performance Standards program. Adjusting benchmarks for electricity generation to zero would put non-emitting generation on a level playing field with other power producers.

The regulatory thicket confronting project developers must become easier to navigate. Now is the time to have hard conversations about permitting, siting, and Indigenous engagement to facilitate the long-term buildout of Ontario’s grid.

In the short term, the government can focus on leveraging the comparative advantages of different forms of zero-carbon electricity in order to limit the need for new transmission and distribution lines. Renewables should be sited as close as possible to areas of high anticipated load growth; similarly, batteries should be sited to minimize line losses and maximize dispatchability. New nuclear projects should be built on the sites of existing reactors. The government should consider prosumer policies that can make electricity more affordable, and develop them with utilities and energy service companies.

If Ontario dreams of a world where natural gas power plants equipped with carbon capture are a part of the grid, now is also the time to develop a workable regulatory framework for using the pore space underneath Lake Erie that can hold that captured carbon, as part of a broader carbon management strategy.

The Ontario government has hard problems that it needs to solve quickly—incoming Energy Minister Stephen Lecce needs to take bold steps to build on Todd Smith’s significant work on this file.

One thing’s for sure though—any skepticism about the government’s supposed about-face on zero-carbon electricity is misplaced. These days, a sound climate policy is a sound economic policy, and vice versa.

Ontario is reimagining its low-carbon future. That vision starts with electricity. Continuing to expand on its ambitions will help the province grow its low-carbon economy and deliver long-term benefits for all Ontarians.