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Toronto Star

Here’s why Canada’s industry minister thinks the country needs to seize a ‘generational opportunity’

Feb 02, 2023 4:48:41 PM

francois philippe champagne heres why canadas industry minister thinks the country needs to seize a generational opportunity 02 02 2023 federal politics thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

OTTAWA – It’s a familiar pitch with a new urgency.

Next week, a pair of Canadian cabinet ministers head to Washington to meet with top Biden administration officials and U.S. companies to talk national and economic security, and the beauty of integrating North American interests.

Coming a few weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden visits Ottawa, the trip by Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Defence Minister Anita Anand to Capitol Hill is aimed at focusing American minds on the Canadian market.

In the hustle to “friend-shore” and build a stronger North American value-added supply chain in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, the ministers are trekking to Washington to promote mutually beneficial ties in those sectors, and in the defence and aerospace sectors as well.

Champagne believes Canada is at a critical juncture, especially as the U.S. funnels billions of dollars towards “greening” its domestic industries via the Inflation Reduction Act, and other countries in Europe, Asia and the U.K. vie for business.

The industry minister also wants Canadian companies and their CEOs to aim higher as international competition heats up to get ahead of the green technology curve.

In an interview with the Star, he said CEOs of global corporations that have subsidiaries here, or who are eyeing Canada for expansion, “want greener supply chains” and are more bullish on the advantages he’s been pitching than Canadians sometimes are.

“I think we need to raise our level of ambition, and I think we need to collectively make that case for Canada,” Champagne said.

“It’s not just me. It’s all of us together to realize that we have the key ingredients to succeed in the economy of the 21st century.”

Besides their U.S. political counterparts, the ministers are meeting key company executives including those from Lockheed Martin, which has just won the contract to supply fighter jets to Canada, and with aerospace and defence giant General Dynamics, which makes armoured vehicles in Canada and supplied the 39 armoured combat support vehicles Canada bought for Ukraine. Other potential meetings are with Boeing and Raytheon.

It’s a bid to bolster stronger defence supply chains and to, in the words of one Canadian official, press the case that continental “economic security is national security, and vice versa.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa said “one of the strengths of the U.S.-Canada relationship is the regular dialogue between leaders at the highest levels of our governments on how best to reach shared goals in the bilateral relationship,” and the ministerial visit is part of that “continuous dialogue.”

The embassy, in a statement to the Star, also noted that when Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Mexico on Jan. 10, they discussed the “generational opportunity to strengthen supply chains for critical minerals, electric vehicles, and semiconductors and to unleash the full economic potential of our shared continent.”

Champagne also uses the phrase “generational opportunity,” and while he believes there are lots of opportunities to work with the U.S., he’s also set his sights on broader global markets.

In 2022, he travelled to Japan three times and South Korea twice, as well as to Germany, Belgium and other European countries, to pitch Canada’s advantages.

He said while Canadians tend to be “sometimes pessimistic” about the country’s economic prospects, “we need to seize the moment and be ambitious.”

Champagne acknowledged Canada cannot match the billions of dollars the U.S. and Europe are prepared to pour into their respective efforts. But, he said, at a time of “unprecedented risk” in many parts of the world, he goes into corporate boardrooms touting Canada’s strategic advantages: governing stability, respect for rule of law, tariff-free access to markets, an abundance of renewable energy and “talent.”

“Pretty much every jurisdiction that would like to be in our position,” he said.

Champagne also dismissed critics of government subsidies to lure corporations, saying without such “investments,” Canada would not have created “a battery ecosystem which is now ranked second in the world by Bloomberg.” Government subsidies, he added, “are part of the equation everywhere in the world.”

“This was a deliberate choice, which will have long lasting, I would say, dividends for generations to come of workers. My thing is not just to create jobs for now, but for the future.”

The peripatetic minister rhymes off projects he’s landed, or is working hard to land — 13 since he took up the post two years ago. Among them: German-headquartered Volkswagen is scouting a factory site for its first automotive plant outside Europe and seriously looking at Canada; Moderna decided to build an mRNA vaccine plant in Montreal; and Stellantis has committed to a $5-billion electric battery manufacturing plant in Windsor.

Those don’t happen without government support, he said. On his to-do list for the months ahead, Champagne said, Canada needs to “secure these large battery investments” – which he said “is going to be a game-changer in terms of our industrial policy.”

The minister listed other sectors he’s determined to promote: bio-manufacturing, aerospace, critical minerals, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.

Champagne said at a time when energy prices are skyrocketing and global CEOs are looking for a greener supply chain, whether it’s “clean” energy, steel or aluminum, Canada’s pitch is “music to their ears.”

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

Join our party if you want our leader, Ontario Greens tell Liberals

Feb 02, 2023 4:46:00 PM

mike schreiner join our party if you want our leader ontario greens tell liberals 02 02 2023 provincial politics thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

The grass is always greener.

Scores of Green Party activists have responded to a push by 40 veteran Ontario Liberals to convince Mike Schreiner to defect to the Grits and run for their leadership.

In a public letter released Thursday and addressed to the “Draft Mike” campaign, 75 Greens urge the Liberals to instead join their environmentally focused party.

“We love how much you appreciate and respect Mike Schreiner, our principled ‘happy warrior’ of Ontario politics,” says the letter signed by Green candidates, riding presidents and campaign workers.

Among the signatories are Matt Richter, who finished a close second to Progressive Conservative Graydon Smith in Parry Sound-Muskoka in the June 2 election, and Schreiner’s riding association president Irene Szabo and his campaign manager Dianne Dance.

“You want Mike to lead you, and we don’t blame you,” continues the Green missive to ex-Liberal candidate Kate Graham and other Grits behind the scheme, including former cabinet ministers Deb Matthews and Greg Sorbara.

“We agree he’s the leader Ontario needs. And the best part is you can have Mike Schreiner as your leader. Right now. It’s so easy: Join us,” says the letter.

“Greens have always welcomed members like you from legacy parties who want to do politics differently and share our vision for Ontario’s future,” it says.

“We know we’re a small party, but we’re growing, and we’d love for you to grow with us. That’s why we’re inviting you to join us in the Green Party of Ontario.”

Schreiner, for his part, said he knew nothing of the Green activists’ letter to his Liberal suitors.

“I haven’t seen the letter,” he said, wryly noting the Star also saw the Grit missive last weekend before he did.

In that Sunday plea, the Liberal veterans begged with Schreiner to cross the floor.

“That is why we are taking this unprecedented step — to reach outside our ranks to urge you, the leader of another party — to join the Ontario Liberals and run for our party’s leadership,” it said.

“Our party needs to rediscover a politics of purpose and principle … that’s why we’re turning to you.”

But the current Green leader said he hasn’t “set a date” for coming to a decision about whether to join the Liberals.

“I don’t want to reach a conclusion until I finish talking to people,” said Schreiner, adding he wanted his response to the Grits’ entreaty “to open a conversation and see what ideas would emerge.”

Asked if he thought the courtship might lead to a merger of the Greens and Liberals, he said he didn’t “want to discuss hypotheticals.”

The unusual appeal comes even though there are already four Liberals testing the waters.

MPPs Mitzie Hunter, (Scarborough-Guildwood) and Ted Hsu, (Kingston and the Islands) and MPs Yasir Naqvi, (Ottawa Centre) and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches-East York) are considering leadership bids.

Hunter pointed out that “we are very strong as a party in terms of potential candidates.”

“At the same time, I know that we are an open party and we welcome people, and we have room in our party,” she said.

The Liberals are holding their annual general meeting in Hamilton on March 3-5.

Incoming NDP leader Marit Stiles, who takes over as Official Opposition leader on Saturday, could barely disguise her glee at the rumbling within rival parties.

“I understand the Liberal party and maybe the Green Party are doing some soul-searching right now after some very disappointing election results,” Stiles said Wednesday.

In the June 2 election, Premier Doug Ford’s Tories won 83 seats with 40.8 per cent of the popular vote to eight seats for the Liberals with 23.9 per cent, 31 seats for the NDP with 23.7 per cent, and one for the Greens with six per cent.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Ontario’s new gas plants will cost more than wind and solar, report says. So why are we building them?

Feb 02, 2023 7:50:35 PM

lth106487224 ontarios new gas plants will cost more than wind and solar report says so why are we building them 02 02 2023 canada news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

Renewable energy options, such as wind and solar, generate electricity with no carbon emissions.

Paired with batteries, they can provide electricity on demand, even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

And, according to a new report, these clean technologies currently cost less than the type of natural gas-fired plants the Ontario government is proposing to build.

“Natural gas plants are incredibly expensive to build and operate, and this report shows that wind and solar, when combined with storage, can do the same job for far less,” said Jack Gibbons, chair of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

“It makes no climate or economic sense to build gas plants when we’ve got these cleaner and lower cost options to keep the lights on.”

The report, put out by Clean Energy Canada, looked at the electricity grids in Alberta and Ontario and found it’s now more expensive to build and operate gas plants than solar and wind farms.

The rapidly falling cost of constructing renewables has been making them more competitive with fossil fuels for years. (Since 2010, the price of solar is down 88 per cent and wind 68 per cent.) The researchers were surprised, however, to discover renewables are now so inexpensive that even when they’re paired with battery storage, they’re still cheaper than gas plants.

“It definitely jumped out to us. Renewables plus batteries are already cost competitive with gas plants, and they’ll get more so going forward,” said Evan Pivnick, one of the authors of the report.

Using a measurement called “levelized cost of energy,” the report found a new natural gas “peaker” plant, like the one currently proposed for Windsor, can produce a kilowatt hour of electricity for 23 cents. It costs 21 cents per kilowatt hour to generate electricity with a new solar farm coupled with eight hours of battery storage. A new wind farm with eight hours of storage can generate that amount of electricity for 11 cents.

“That’s what’s remarkable about this. When you include batteries with renewables, you get an apples to apples comparison to gas,” said Binnu Jeyakumar, director of electricity at the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank based in Alberta.

“Renewables are the cheapest way to procure electricity,” she said. “(This report) sends a strong message to government: that they need to take advantage of these resources.”

Ontario is currently in the process of procuring 1,500 megawatts of gas-fired generation that will only operate approximately two per cent of the time, when electricity demand peaks. Environmental groups have questioned whether these new gas plants are necessary when options such as importing hydro power from Quebec and building renewables with storage could provide that peak power.

Queen’s Park opted to end a power purchase agreement with Quebec last year.

And while the province’s independent electricity operator, the IESO, is also procuring 2,500 megawatts of battery storage, it won’t be ready to handle the growth in peak demand anticipated between 2025 and 2027.

The new gas plants have put Ontario on a collision course with the federal government, which is introducing a Clean Energy Regulation this year to enforce a net-zero grid by 2035, mostly by eliminating coal and natural gas plants.

The Clean Energy Canada report warns of the dangers of building more natural gas infrastructure.

“If we continue adding natural gas to the grid, it will be very difficult to meet our climate targets. And because power plants operate for decades, the decision to build more natural gas generation is passing significant risk on to future generations — both in terms of the emissions produced and the costs to retrofit or retire facilities early,” the report said.

In order to reassure investors, Premier Doug Ford’s government has guaranteed payment to the new gas plants, even if they have to shut down and produce no power.

After slashing emissions from electricity generation by shutting down all its coal plants, Ontario’s grid emissions are now slated to rise by 400 per cent.

Together, wind and solar currently produce nine per cent of the province’s electricity, about the same amount as natural gas. The bulk of electricity comes from hydro (24 per cent) and nuclear (58 per cent).

This leaves a lot of room for more renewables, said Caroline Lee, mitigation research lead at the Canadian Climate Institute.

“Renewables have a lot to give,” she said. “There’s so much untapped potential both from an economic and environmental perspective. We need to double down on renewables and this work corroborates that.”

A decade ago, the key driver for wind and solar was climate, said Aakash Harpalani, director of clean energy at The Atmospheric Fund. “Today it’s economic.”

Globally, wind, solar and storage made up 80 per cent of new electrical generation investment in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Wind solar and storage are the building blocks of a clean grid around the world,” said Harpalani. “The rest of the world is certainly moving in that direction.”

Gibbons, who was instrumental in lobbying for the coal power phase out, said natural gas is obsolete. Renewables paired with storage “mean not only lowering emissions, but lowering our electricity rates,” he said.

“It’s best for consumers and best for the climate.”

Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based reporter covering climate change for the Star. Reach him via email: moved@thestar.ca

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