With Earth Day behind us, it’s a good time to take stock of B.C.’s record on the environment and, while far from perfect, there are some impressive accomplishments. It’s been a decade since Elizabeth May made history in B.C., becoming the first elected federal legislator in North America representing an environmental party. But the firsts haven’t stopped there.
B.C. leads North America on several important indicators of environmental progress, including the highest percentage adoption of electric vehicles (one in eight, or 13 per cent have bought EVs). BC was the first jurisdiction on the continent to place a price on carbon, back in 2008 under Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell. However often maligned, the B.C. carbon tax model has been copied in dozens of states and provinces, and imitation is indeed the finest form of flattery.
British Columbia governments and entrepreneurs have established a series of “firsts.”
One year ago, Harbour Air, supported by the CleanBC Go Electric Advanced Research and Commercialization program, announced that tests of the world’s first commercial all-electric seaplane were going so well that it planned to move to electric power for all its commercial flights. Victoria-based Gregory C. Marshall Naval Architects continued the environmental innovation in 2022, building the world’s first large-scale commercial all-electric catamaran.
But the transition to zero-emission transportation will require more than impressive innovations in electric seaplanes and catamarans. Major investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure are needed from both the government and private sector. In March, the B.C. Government announced it will build 100 EV charging stations as part of its plan to spend $8.5 million building 650 stations over the next five years. That’s on top of the recent federal government announcement of $400 million in spending to extend charging stations across Canada, an announcement made by Prime Minister Trudeau recently in Victoria.
Critics argue that even these investments in charging stations are inadequate. If the aggressive targets set by BC’s Zero Emission Vehicles Act are to be met (rising from a goal of 10 per cent light-duty EVs by 2025 to 100 per cent by 2040), the auto industry contends that millions of charging stations must be built, or about one for every 10 EVs on the road. Another area in which B.C. has shown environmental leadership is establishing and continuing EV purchase rebates, but the industry wants those rebates extended to more expensive electric SUVs and trucks that consumers are buying more frequently.
Arguably one of B.C.’s most famous environmental innovations, the Ballard Fuel Cell, was the brainchild of Geoffrey Ballard in 1979. Established in 1979, Ballard Power Systems still operates in Burnaby, as well as in China, the U.S. and Europe. A privately held spin-off company focusses on hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen-powered vehicles emit water vapour, and while the potential of this—the cleanest of fuels—has not been fully optimized, New Zealand just announced a trial of hydrogen vehicles in partnership with Toyota. If hydrogen-powered vehicles catch on, B.C. entrepreneurs can take a lot of the credit.
A combination of factors makes B.C. the greenest place on the continent. Most crucially, we have an abundance of clean hydroelectric power. We also have a large population of environmentally conscious consumers with the means to invest in green technology. And underpinning it all, successive Liberal and NDP governments have established ambitious targets and mandates to reduce emissions.
Local governments across B.C. are helping as well.
Vancouver can now lay claim to being the “greenest city in North America,” according to the Green Economy Report of the Vancouver Economic Commission. With the lowest carbon footprint on the continent, Vancouver is also becoming a thriving hub for environmental businesses. One in 15 jobs in Vancouver are considered part of the green economy, a figure that has doubled in the past decade. And a new Crown Corporation established by the NDP government last year, InBC, is investing $500 million a year in small- and medium-sized green business ideas.
If the future is truly green, B.C. is well positioned to become one of the international hubs of the new green economy. Going green is good for the planet, but it may also be good for British Columbians’ pocketbook.
Bruce Cameron has been a pollster and strategist for over 35 years, working initially for Gallup Polls, Decima Research and the Angus Reid Group before founding his own consultancy, Return On Insight.