building sustainable cities in Quebec | Ecofiscal

Building Sustainable Cities in Quebec: Ecofiscal opportunities for municipalities in the 21st century

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On Tuesday, January 27th, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission held an event at the Faculty Club in Montreal with SWITCH: L’Alliance pour une économie verte au Québec. Below is Chris Ragan’s speech.

Merci beaucoup Monsieur Simard. Bonjour à tous, et bienvenue a l’université McGill—ma maison intellectuelle.

I’m so looking forward to today’s panel discussion. The issue is important for Canada—as it is for all our provinces and cities. But it’s particularly important and relevant in Quebec—where there is both exceptional leadership and a real opportunity to align our economic and environmental aspirations.

Globally and across Canada, there is an increasing awareness that we cannot choose between economic success and environmental health. These two things come as a pair, and we need to think of them that way. Quebec has, if anything, been ahead of most in realizing this important truth.

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This is exactly the motivation for Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission: to help develop practical policies to improve both our economy and our environment. I’m delighted to be Chairing this Commission — and as I stand on McGill territory, let me hasten to add how appreciative I am to McGill for providing me the necessary flexibility to do so.

In a nutshell, ecofiscal policies are ones that attach prices to pollution of various kinds. These policies correct market signals to encourage the economic activities we want (such as job creation, investment, and innovation) while discouraging the activities we clearly don’t want (such as greenhouse gas emissions and pollution of our land, air, and water).

These policies generate powerful incentives for households and businesses to reduce their polluting activities, and they also produce incentives for the innovative development of cleaner alternatives.

But there is a second crucial benefit from using ecofiscal policies. The revenue generated from pollution pricing can be recycled back to the economy — by reducing taxes on families and businesses, supporting the development of new technologies, or investing in critical public infrastructure.

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Comme professeur, il est presque impossible de se lever et dire: « cette idée n’est pas nouvelle, mais très importante”. Néanmoins, c’est la vérité – dans les deux cas.

First, ecofiscal policies aren’t new. Many other countries have used them to address different issues—from water conservation and landfill waste, to traffic congestion and carbon emissions. In Canada, however, this is a relatively new idea — and a new opportunity. Among OECD countries, we are at the bottom of the pack in terms of our use of ecofiscal policies.

Second, it really does matter. In particular, it matters how our governments raise their revenues. It is simply not true that “a dollar is a dollar is a dollar”. The way we design our fiscal structures crucially shapes our incentives and our behaviour – and thus our economies and our environment.

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Ecofiscal policies are particularly important for our cities, which are home to the vast majority of Canadians, the drivers of our economy, and the hubs of our innovation. But they are also where the biggest pressures are emerging – in mounting road congestion, growing strains on public infrastructure, and diminishing air quality.

Ces politiques sont des outils puissants qui peuvent répondre à ces problèmes en aidant les villes à devenir les centres urbains que nous voulons.

If designed sensibly, these policies can create incentives for sustainable actions and innovations that make our cities more livable, increase the quality of our lives, and help us compete for global talent.

Canadians experience environmental and economic challenges viscerally at the local level. With ecofiscal policies in hand, urban policymakers can develop solutions that speak to the needs of their constituents, their budgets, and their long-term priorities.

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What could these ecofiscal solutions look like? That is what today’s conversation is all about.

The Ecofiscal Commission is national in its scope, but regional in details. This mandate requires partnering with the right groups in the various regions across Canada. SWITCH is an important consortium of industry and civil society in Quebec, and is a perfect partner for this event. Their ability to engage the broad conversation on the ground will help move practical policies forward.

With that, let me say how delighted I am to introduce Steven Guilbeault of SWITCH, our partner in bringing all of these interesting people—including you—together.

Merci beaucoup Steven…

>>Read the French news about the roundtable

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