The big question then, of course, is how to attract new, innovative companies to Canada while offering incentives to established enterprises to begin focusing research on environmentally-friendly technologies. For any R&D-focused company to thrive they need certain factors specific to the innovative industry in which they exist. While there are a multitude of factors, we can focus on some of the biggest to get started.
The first is people. For these companies, their people are the backbone of their business. Fortunately, there has been a massive push in Canada in recent years to expand enrolment in STEM fields. While this is a step in the right direction, the government should go further. Many provinces already offer tuition rebates for people in education or healthcare that agree to work in northern and remote areas, so why not introduce these programs to STEM? Give tuition rebates to young graduates who begin working at Canadian companies whose technologies have the possibility for substantial environmental impact. Additionally, create a fast-track immigration route for individuals who try to come to Canada to work for these innovative companies. Further, expand the Connect Canada Internship program which provides grant money for companies that wish to hire an intern for the purpose of R&D. We already have all three of these talent-recruitment programs in place at provincial, territorial, and federal levels; we simply need to re-focus them to recruit and retain the talent that can help us create environmentally-friendly technologies.
The second important factor for companies that are attempting to innovate is R&D funding. Tesla has been so successful, in part, because it has been able to generate private sector funding to maintain its operations throughout its lengthy money-losing phase. How many companies that could have been as revolutionary as Tesla have died out because they failed to obtain this funding? A program such as the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), launched this summer by the federal government is a positive step forward. The fund is $1.3 billion of repayable and non-repayable grants for companies attempting to innovate. Again, we simply need to re-focus the program to ensure that the innovation focuses on environmentally-friendly technologies. If Trudeau insists on implementing a job-killing carbon tax, then the revenue generated from the price-on-carbon should be earmarked for investment in a fund similar to SIF in an attempt to attract environment-focused R&D to Canada. While the carbon tax remains an unnecessary burden on the national economy, this use of the revenue would at least help offset the short-term economic pains with the improved probability of a smooth transition to a “green economy” for Canada in the medium- to long-run.
A third element that any prospective company would look at is the market viability if their R&D is successful. In this regard, Canada is already pretty well established thanks to the abundance of free-trade agreements signed by the Harper government over the past decade. Nonetheless, and particularly with the re-opening of NAFTA, the ability for future Canadian-made, eco-friendly products to be exported around the globe must be kept in mind during any trade talks. Increased tax-breaks for consumers who invest in eco-friendly products, such as partial or full GST exemptions on electric vehicles, could also improve the domestic market which is a key-to-success for companies early in their existence.
In conclusion, the world is inching slowly towards eco-friendly products and the minimization of fossil fuels. In one way or another, the world will eventually stop using them. The burning question is if we do so because we find a better alternative, or because we have run out of oil. If we find better alternatives, the new products would rapidly gain global market share, as regulators and consumers alike become increasingly conscious of environmental footprints, while remaining wary of the price-tags with which they come. This presents a massive economic growth and transition opportunity for Canada, one that we must not pass up. This is not to say that the government should throw large amounts of new taxpayer dollars at the issue but rather that it should offer companies a carrot for investing in green-tech, rather than hitting them with a stick when they go over emissions limits. To do so, the government must simply tailor existing programs to aid the creation of a new national industry, one that will not replace the Canadian oil industry but rather that will act as a complement and aid our economic diversification.
At the end of the day, eco-friendly products in virtually every industry will eventually take over. I would simply prefer that foreigners need buy these products and technologies from Canadians, rather than Canadians need buy these products from foreigners.
Picture titled, "Glacial Retreat," taken by Ian D. Keating on June 8, 2016, obtained through Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/RU98NY