Blue wood-sided house with solar panels on the roof, symbolizing sustainable housing solutions for Canada's climate and affordability challenges.

Who would’ve thought heating oil would be the dominant political issue

Posted By: John Bennett Comments Off on Who would’ve thought heating oil would be the dominant political issue

Front side-viewof a blue wood-sided house showing solar panels on the roof.All the premiers as well as left and right political parties are teaming up against the government. Why? Because the oil companies pumped up the price of oil so much the Liberal government felt compelled to offer some relief to rural residents still dependent on oil heating until they can install alternatives which the federal government has made more affordable. 

Canadians might be better served if our political leaders put a little effort into solving problems instead of wasting time pointing fingers and trying to score political points.

We have a housing crisis, an affordability crisis and a climate crisis. With a little ingenuity and willingness to try different approaches, we might find ways to work on them all at the same time.

The millions of new housing units we need and millions that need upgrading is one place to start. Right now governments leave it largely up to homeowners to do all the heavy lifting. Grants and subsidies for green upgrades are fine but they are based on the cost of home ownership being reasonable and people have extra cash to invest in the latest tech. After all, it will save them money in the long run.

The federal government offers homeowners a $5,000 incentive to install solar panels who are expected to bear the $25,000 cost of the average installation. The same goes for heat pumps, windows, and air sealing with a maximum of $10,000 in rebates and up to $40,000 in a no-interest 10 year loan if  you earn sufficient income to meet the criteria. These are good incremental programs but they don’t reflect an urgent need for climate action, the affordability crisis or the need for more housing. 

In the midst of an affordability and climate crisis, are these types of programs the best approach? Isn’t there a role for regulation here?

Present building codes don’t require the highest degree of efficiency in structures or the installation of heat pumps or solar panels, or other efficient technologies. There are no regulations requiring older homes and buildings to be upgraded. It is assumed by the government these things will just happen. This is how the carbon price is supposed to work: a price signal will lead to the choice of the greenest most efficient heating systems. The builder, however, is concerned with immediate profit not the operating cost. Landlords can always pass on operating, i.e. heating, costs to tenants so they are not lining up to install heat pumps or other upgrades.

But what if governments required all new housing to have heat pumps and solar collectors installed.  Why not start with the recent federal announcement in which Canada Lands will convert federal land for 2,600 houses over 6 years?

Alberta has put a stop to renewable energy projects citing concerns about land use by large wind and solar projects. Yet, there are millions of roof tops across the country just crying out for solar panels.

There is no recognition of the social value of individual action. We describe the assistance given to homeowners and electric car drivers as “grants and subsidies” as if society derives no value from their efforts. The air we breathe is cleaner. They reduce the need for expensive large-scale generation. They make the electrical grid more resilient and reduce the number forced out of  their homes when a climate event knocks down power lines. 

This is the area where our political leaders need to apply themselves in the spirit of solving our problems instead of pointing fingers in Question Period. They should be talking about how we can make all of our homes and buildings part of the solution to our housing crisis, our affordability crisis and our climate crisis.


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