Van Geyn: Promised green jobs aren’t sticking around

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The people of Tillsonburg and Southwestern Ontario are the latest victims of the provincial government’s inconsistent and incoherent public policy on energy.

On Tuesday, Siemens announced the closing of its Tillsonburg wind-turbine plant, which means 340 jobs lost in the town this year, including 206 immediately.

Despite the government’s claim that the “greening of the economy” would create an influx of new jobs in the green tech sector, it hasn’t turned out that way for Southwestern Ontario. And no matter how much the government is spending on green initiatives — like the $8 billion climate-change action plan, or even the massive $850-million government contract to Siemens — the green jobs aren’t appearing.

Or if they are, they aren’t sticking around.

Since the Siemens plant opened in 2011, Southwestern Ontario has been hard hit by job losses and plant closures. This year, the Cami assembly plant in Ingersoll closed one line, which meant 625 job losses. The region also lost 410 jobs when the Heinz plant closed in Leamington in 2014, London lost 500 jobs at the Kellogg’s plant when it closed in 2014, and 450 people lost their jobs at Electro-Motive Diesel in 2012. Right as the Siemens plant was opening in 2011, the Talbotville Ford plant was closing, putting 1,100 people out of work.

All the while, the government has told us not to worry because the greening of the economy was creating tens of thousands of new jobs. Out with the old, like traditional manufacturing jobs, and in with the new solar-panel and wind-turbine factories.

When the Green Energy and Economy Act was introduced in 2009, then-premier Dalton McGuinty told the province his plan would create 50,000 new jobs. At the time, the dubious claim was slammed by the auditor general, who pointed out 30,000 of the premier’s projected jobs would be temporary construction jobs. And further, the auditor general warned, the “50,000-job projection included new jobs, but not those jobs that would be lost as a result of promoting renewable energy.”

We now know more about those jobs that have been lost as a result of promoting renewable energy. Between 2006 and 2014, Ontarians overpaid for electricity by $37 billion, and will be overcharged by another $133 billion by 2032. Running an energy-intensive manufacturing business when there is no ability to predict or control the cost of electricity has become unsustainable, and businesses across the province cite electricity costs as a reason they are closing up or relocating.

While the government hasn’t acknowledged that renewable power has been a major cause of these price increases, they did suspend a $3.8-billion procurement in new renewable power in 2016. The suspension in September 2016 was an abrupt change after the procurement was ordered only four months earlier.

The government created the high electricity prices that have driven manufacturing jobs out of communities like Tillsonburg. Now the government’s attempts to fix the high electricity rates that they created are driving out the very green jobs they promised would fill in the gaps caused by other job losses.

The town motto of Tillsonburg is “a place to build your future.”

But thanks to Ontario’s government policies, the future for 340 people became a lot less certain.

Christine Van Geyn is the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. 

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