Written by: Tyler Hamilton
Energy and Technology Columnist
Read the original article on The Toronto Star website.
What does Canada look like to the world leaders and foreign press who will be converging in Ontario at the end of the month for the G8 and G20 summits?
Before they arrive, they will surely carry images of Canada as a massive country with an abundance of natural resources – forests, fresh water, fossil fuels, minerals and farmland. From an economic and trade perspective, they will likewise see Canada as an exporter of oil and natural gas, wood products, metals and grains, as well as a destination for tourists not accustomed to such natural beauty.
The controversial fake lake in Toronto’s G20 media centre suggests that Canada aims to highlight, as we always have, these impressive resources that we have not created but have creatively exploited.
We’re lucky in one sense. “Many of these countries do not have the natural resources to fall back on that Canada does,” writes venture capitalist Andrew Heintzman in his latest book The New Entrepreneurs, out this week.
But Heintzman laments that Canada continues to depend so heavily on its natural resources, going so far as to call it a “curse” that prevents us from investing in new innovations or creating – not just talking about – bold new policies that will create a vibrant green economy in Canada.
The New Entrepreneurs paints a heartening picture of what the green economy could look like. At the same time, it introduces us to dozens of clean technology innovations and, behind them, the Canadian risk-takers who are passionately trying to drive change in a resource-driven country that likes the way things are – even if it can’t last.
There’s Greg Nuttall of Woodland Biofuels, which has a far more efficient way to produce ethanol fuels that can help wean us from petroleum, and Stuart Lombard, founder of one of Canada’s first Internet companies, who is now behind a company called EcoBee that makes smart thermostats for managing home energy consumption.
We’re introduced to Greg Kiessling, founder of green energy retailer Bullfrog Power, which is supplying to Canadians what public utilities have failed to do, and Jonathan Rhone, who founded a company called Nexterra that can turn wood chips and other forms of biomass into clean burning gas.
There are dozens more like them. Their stories are inspiring and the technologies impressive, though one gets the sense reading The New Entrepreneurs that Canada, despite its huge capacity for innovation, is going to get smoked on the global stage.
Heintzman is well placed as narrator. He’s the chief executive and co-founder of Toronto-based Investeco, a venture capital firm dedicated to funding “green” start-ups. This places him on the front lines of innovation. He’s also chair of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s climate change advisory panel, giving him an inside look at the policy challenges the province and country face, as well as the opportunities we’re missing.
This is particularly true at the federal level, where Heintzman says we have “failed most spectacularly.” Where are the national commitments to high-speed rail, public transit and the creation of a cross-country smart grid? Where is the price on carbon, or the support for new clean technology start-ups?
Why are we far behind other G8 countries when it comes to investing in green innovation and infrastructure, or what Ottawa-based think tank Sustainable Prosperity calls the “low carbon investment gap”?
“Will we be able to compete? So far, measured on the basis of green innovation and capital investment, Canada is falling behind,” writes Heintzman, adding that noble efforts at a municipal and provincial level have still left us with a patchwork of programs and ideas but no national plan.
“The unfortunate truth is that, today, Canada has virtually no national strategy on renewable energy; no plans for high-speed rail lines in development; no national smart-grid plans of any consequences; no greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals of any meaning; and no energy efficiency goals,” he adds.
“In short, Canada is lacking a coherent national strategy on the most important economic questions of our time – questions that will define our future competiveness, productivity and prosperity.”
Don’t bet on any of these questions being raised at the G8 and G20 summits, even in the context of climate change concerns. Prime Minister Harper doesn’t want to go there, and only reluctantly added climate change to the agenda after complaints from the European Union, Mexico and the United Nations.
And BP’s oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico? That just makes oil from Alberta’s oil sands a greener alternative, right?
Perhaps one of the biggest problems in Canada is with our political leaders, and I use the word “leaders” loosely. Heintzman writes that the current political games, through which parties vilify and attack opponents, have got to stop.
“We need politicians today who are willing to take the necessary risks to forge a new consensus around building a green economy in this country,” he says.
Passionate, visionary, risk-taking politicians? Now that’s a natural resource that’s all too scarce in Canada.