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Tim Hudak’s jobs plan would kill green jobs

It’s no secret that Ontario needs to create jobs. Our unemployment rate is too high. But it’s very strange to suggest that job creation can be accomplished by killing jobs that people actually have today. And yet, that is exactly what Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak proposed in his jobs plan, which he tabled in the legislature last week.

In addition to some drastic cuts to public sector jobs, Hudak’s pledge to end subsidies to wind and solar power would have the effect of killing thousands of jobs in Ontario’s newest manufacturing sector — green energy.

The rhetoric is all about taming electricity costs, but it’s been well established that green energy is not at fault for rising costs. Wind energy is less expensive than almost any other new source of electricity, even natural gas. And at this point, solar power is just not that significant a source of electricity in Ontario and its impact on prices is minimal. Moreover, the costs of solar power are falling fast while the technology is improving dramatically, which is why industry watchers agree that solar is the future.

Look, we are long-time supporters of green energy but we admit that the Green Energy Act is not perfect. It has, however, helped Ontario cut emissions and it has created jobs — over 30,000 of them at last count, in fact. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Furthermore, many of the jobs created by the Green Energy Act are in manufacturing, the importance of which can hardly be overstated.

Manufacturing has been and continues to be the driver of Ontario’s economy. Despite having shed hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the last decade, the sector continues to be the largest employer in Ontario and the largest contributor to our GDP.

Green energy is injecting some much-needed life into Ontario’s challenged manufacturing sector. From Windsor to Kingston to Sault Ste. Marie, new manufacturing facilities have opened across this province where people are now employed building solar panels and windmills to meet the demand created by Ontario’s Green Energy Act.

In addition, green energy has also helped existing industries. Steelworkers at Essar Steel in Sault Ste. Marie are now rolling steel that gets used in wind towers, for example.

Hudak must be aware of these jobs since a number of them are in his backyard. Ontario Solar Manufacturing employs about 50 people at its plant in Welland. PowerBlades Inc. will employ another 200 people making blades for windmills, also in Welland. And there’s another plant in nearby Beamsville where they build components for wind turbines. We could go on.

Importantly, many of these jobs are good jobs, too. Not only do they pay decent wages, but workers we’ve met with consistently speak about how proud they are to be part of this industry, proud to be part of the solution to climate change, and proud that their kids finally think mom or dad “gets it.”

This is the kind of sector, and the kind of jobs, we need to be creating. For too long, we’ve been told that we need to choose between our economy and our environment. But we can’t continue to act as though this is true. We need a strong economy and a clean environment.

Thankfully, we can have both. And Ontario’s embrace of green energy demonstrates that a clean environment and good jobs can go hand in hand.

Ontarians need to understand that the green energy revolution is just beginning. The jobs we have today are a result of Ontario’s demand for wind and solar but, thanks to our early lead, we’re in a position to serve a growing global demand for renewables, and especially well-positioned to service the North American market.

Turning our backs on wind and solar now would be a mistake. It would mean giving up a leadership position in one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world.

More immediately, it would mean putting people out of work. That’s an odd way to go about creating jobs.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.