Ole Hammarlund's response to the Throne Speech (2021)

This transcript of Ole Hammarlund's response to the Speech from the Throne is copied from the official Hansard record of the Legislature. 

To watch the video recording of this speech, go to www.assembly.pe.ca/video-archive, select "Spring 2021", click on the March 2nd video and advance to the 2:32:40 mark.

I am, of course, so pleased that after almost two years of a resistance and little action, that this government has finally accepted the net-zero agenda that our caucus has promoted at every sitting since the last election. Changing your mind, even for good reason, is difficult for politicians, so I really respect when politicians do that, in this case, for really good reasons, as net-zero and climate change are fundamentally nonpartisan issues.

I have observed the hon. Premier is sensitive to giving and getting proper credits so please let me assure him – I hope you hear this, since he’s not here – that I give full credit to this government for adopting hook, line and sinker, our entire net-zero agenda.

For this government to up the ante by declaring goals that are 10 or 20 years ahead of other jurisdictions is commendable as well. After all, it’s well-established in the scientific community that there is very much an urgency to actually implement the measures needed, not in the future decades but right now, in deliberate and immediate actions.

I would also like to congratulate the new Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action, with his new position. Too bad he’s not here either but I hope he’s listening. This new position ensures the coordination efforts of the three key areas and it’s absolutely what is needed for effective and speedy progress in this portfolio.

I am, of course, so pleased that after almost two years of a resistance and little action, that this government has finally accepted the net-zero agenda that our caucus has promoted at every sitting since the last election. Changing your mind, even for good reason, is difficult for politicians, so I really respect when politicians do that, in this case, for really good reasons, as net-zero and climate change are fundamentally nonpartisan issues. I have observed the hon. Premier is sensitive to giving and getting proper credits so please let me assure him – I hope you hear this, since he’s not here – that I give full credit to this government for adopting hook, line and sinker, our entire net-zero agenda.

For this government to up the ante by declaring goals that are 10 or 20 years ahead of other jurisdictions is commendable as well. After all, it’s well-established in the scientific community that there is very much an urgency to actually implement the measures needed, not in the future decades but right now, in deliberate and immediate actions. I would also like to congratulate the new Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action, with his new position. Too bad he’s not here either but I hope he’s listening. This new position ensures the coordination efforts of the three key areas and it’s absolutely what is needed for effective and speedy progress in this portfolio.

However, progressive goals are not enough. Far too often, governments and politicians declare goals that are never implemented. For instance, our federal government, as well as most other countries, have been quick to set aggressive goals at this Paris conference but so far, these goals have not only not been reached, but Canada and most other countries have totally failed to change the steep upwards curve of CO2 emissions.

In the past two years, this government has equally failed to improve this unsuccessful policy. In fact, they have made it worse by subsidizing gas consumptions by millions of dollars a year to spare Islanders the effect of a modest carbon tax. Not only is this wasting government taxes but it just postpones the necessary changes that we all have to take to combat climate change. Is the government’s model no change now for more pain later?

My own knowledge in the net-zero area is buildings. I’m, of course, incredibly excited that my very first action in the House, the net-zero now motion, has finally resulted in this government adopting my agenda and more. It is gratifying to know that the planning for the first net-zero school has begun and that the government now requires all their new buildings to be net-zero instead of just the one school that they originally adopted.

To reach net-zero carbon emissions in just 20 years is a massive undertaking and government buildings are only a small part of the problem. We need all new buildings, as well as all existing buildings, to meet the new standards. This would require several billions in new spending, translating to between 100 and 200 million additional construction every year.

The good news is that these investments can be paid for by the associated savings in energy. Power and heating oil bills will become zero, our local economy will be significantly boosted by this activity, but the challenges in meeting the goals are many. The billions to be spent are obviously beyond the usual grant programs. Financing systems involving both private and government sources have to be designed so that net-zero buildings are affordable. I have already suggested solutions for this, such as using the credit capability of a Crown corporation or collecting the net-zero payoffs through the existing property tax system.

Sadly, the government is not listening and is still planning to finance its flagship net-zero project, the new school in Sherwood, out of ordinary capital budget. This may be fine for one building but clearly it does not work for the billions of dollars needed.

Finding the required labour is another key issue and difficulty. Education has to be provided so that our labour force can handle the additional workload and special skills required for construction and renovating buildings to the new standards.

The proposed energy academy and ecoinnovation park is a great step in that direction and Holland College and the UPEI centre for climate change would be great partners, but would the UPEI school of sustainable engineering and the construction association not be suitable partners as well? We need all the partners we can get.

My concern is also how soon we’ll have graduates if we have to construct the new campus first. Would it not be possible to start education next fall? After all, Holland College is famous for creating new course material in record time.

Codes have to be amended to meet the new requirements, and while the National Building Code is designed to meet net-zero standard in 2030, we obviously need to advance faster on PEI to meet the government’s aggressive schedule. This should, of course, involve consultation with all of the partners in the industry.

There are literally hundreds of details to be worked out. For instance, new oil burners are still being installed in both new and old buildings and, incredibly, they’re still being subsidized by efficiencyPEI. New windows are typically only double glazed where they should be triple glazed. The subtle details like that are taken care of, the less expensive changes will be in the future.

To give a specific example, take windows. Windows can be upgraded to triple glazing for a modest $10 per square foot if the upgrade is made before the window is installed. To change and install a double glazed window later to triple glazing will likely cost $100 per square foot or 10 times as much.

Speed of change is of essence, especially in the construction industry. Whereas electric cars may or may not be less expensive in the near future, the opposite is true for construction and renovation. I walk Upper Prince Street frequently and last summer, I watched two century-old apartment buildings receive completely new siding and windows. Neither one had extra insulation added, nor triple glazed windows. This would have been the perfect opportunity to add those items at a modest cost. To add those same features later would cost 10 times as much. This is why we somehow have to change to net-zero almost immediately or it will cost us way, way more later.

Some of the 2,000 new clean tech jobs promised will likely be in the building sector, where they’re badly needed. They are already missing hundreds of workers but the existing workforce in the construction industry will have to be updated fast. While installing triple glazed windows is no different than installing double glazed windows, many other details are different. Demonstration projects are essential. This should start immediately and there are plenty of poorly-maintained apartment buildings that badly need work. They’re a start; let us get going.

The required improvements to existing apartment buildings is a touchy subject. Often, the most work and investment is needed in low-rent buildings, serving lowincome tenants. Upgrades to these buildings must be made in a way so it does not make the tenants worse off. If government funds are involved especially, tenants, not landlords, should be the ones benefitting from the government funds.

Net-zero standards are the standards of the future. They will become standard features of construction, as are smoke alarms and proper exits right now. Think of seatbelts and airbags in cars. Their presence in cars is hardly the reason why you buy a car, this car or that car. You just take them for granted. I hope the same will be true of net-zero features. Net-zero just makes sense in our climate.

However, if our Island is spending billions of dollars to meet net-zero standards, we might well expand our scope a little further and do better in the process. Forty-five years ago, PEI was famous all over the world for its Ark project and, for a time, the Ark was the second-most visited site on PEI, second only to the Anne of Green Gables House. Net-zero alone is not going to bring famous or visitors to PEI. The net-zero features need to be incorporated into innovative housing projects that we might well name net-zero villages. Such villages can either be urban or rural and should be high-density, preserving precious land. Almost all systems, be it solar collectors or energy efficiency, works much better on a collective scale, but the real bonus of such a dense development is the potential for social interaction without the need for a car. Kids and adults alike can freely walk or bike to communal facilities such as day care, workshops, common dining rooms, teen rooms, et cetera.

This government had a footnote in the last budget discussions about a competition. We badly need such competition and we need it to start right now to get good thoughts about taking net-zero further into housing where it belongs.

Of course, such development should not be apartments run by a landlord; either landlord private or government. We need to increase the housing units that are controlled by the residents, using housing cooperatives or cohousing as models.

I have spent a considerable part of my past career designing co-op housing, a very popular housing option, promoted by federal funding about 30 years ago. Such housing avoids the usual landlord/tenant issues by being neither one. In co-op housing, the residents control the building and real affordable housing is the result. I live in one such six-unit project for over 25 years and it was better for my family than regular apartments or single-family housing would have been in many, many ways.

In the throne speech, the past institution or the Institute of Man and Resources was mentioned. I came to PEI myself in 1974 to design and build the Ark project, which was later taken over by the Institute of Man and Resources or IMR. The founder of IMR was Andy Wells the secretary to premier Alex Campbell, and Andy was absolutely essential to bring the Ark, the world’s first net-zero food and net-zero energy building to PEI. The Ark was just one of many projects developed at the time. The wind institute was created, starting our Island’s famed windmill projects, the Charlottetown district heating system was built, including the waste-to-energy plant, the whole Island forestry industry was renewed with better species, woodchip production to clear poor-quality growth and woodchip burners were installed in many major buildings. Canada’s first energy-ordered program was developed and piloted here and all kinds of people came here to visit to work but settle on this remarkable Island at a time clearly leading the way in the world. Note that this was all based on action. Promises are not enough if the government wants to be on the map in the world. They have to act. You have already been governing for almost two years.

One of those civils was, of course, myself and, for a few years, I was associated with the Ark. I mention this because the government claims to be a leader in netzero, but I can say from experience that promises are not enough to become known as a leader. Actual and decisive action, this requires, to become a leader and then the fame will follow. It does not actually take that long to make a project that makes the world take notice. The Ark took two years from concept to the opening by Pierre Trudeau. The windmill test site and the district heating system took maybe five. The continued expansion of the windmill system with cheaper, bigger and more effective windmills is an ongoing process, but I would imagine it would take up to five years to plan and install a windmill park, even if you don’t get community resistance, as we’re getting right now.

Let us get going. Let’s see some action, some real action.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.