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Merran Smith: promoting Canada’s clean energy future

Vancouver’s clean energy advocate says Canada needs to “get in the game”, put a price on pollution and invest in green alternatives.

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In a city like Vancouver, people pride themselves on making greener choices. Daily decisions can add up to significant change, but in order to become the “greenest” city – or a greener country as a whole – we need to focus on the bigger picture.

That’s exactly what Merran Smith is trying to do. Her role as Director of the Tides Canada Energy Initiative has put her at the forefront of the push for cleaner energy alternatives, reaching out to leaders in government, business, nonprofit and cultural sectors to make the green vision a reality.

It sounds like quite a challenge, but Smith is up for it. Before taking on this daunting task, she was a leading voice in the creation of the Great Bear Rainforest conservation agreement, which now protects over two million hectares of precious BC land.

Now an active mother with twin four-year-olds, Smith is in the midst of construction on her family’s new home on Bowen Island. Despite her hectic schedule, she was able to give the Vancouver Observer a glimpse into Tides Canada and its vision for the future.

The Tides Canada Energy Initiative

Tides Canada is a community foundation that funds NGOs working on social justice and environmental issues. The organization has been around for over a decade, but Smith was brought on just a year ago to develop and lead a brand new initiative.

“Last year was their 10th anniversary, and they decided it was time to morph into Tides 2.0,” explained Smith. “It was time to look into how they could be even more effective, and also be more of an active agent for change…actually engaging strategically in key issues for Canada.”

Some of the most important issues they identified as priorities for Canadians had to do with climate change and energy, and thus, the Energy Initiative was born.

“Our goal is to help Canada transition to a low-carbon economy,” Smith said.

And to do that, Tides Canada started by looking at some of the reasons why we haven’t really started to make the shift yet. While other countries are making big changes and working toward cleaner alternatives, Smith said Canada is falling behind.

So why isn’t Canada transitioning to a low-carbon economy? According to Smith, part of the reason is that we have such an abundance of energy.

“We have a lot of energy. We export energy. So there’s not an energy security motivation, which is what’s driving most countries in the world to actually shift to clean and renewable energy. They don’t have most of their energy – they have to buy it,” she said.

It makes sense that scarcity is a major driver for change. But even without that motivation, a lot of Canadians care about things like climate change and the environment. So shouldn’t we still be looking for alternatives?

“Part of what we realized is that there isn’t actually a clear vision of where we want to go. What do we want our society to look like? What do we want our cities to look like? How will people live and go to work? And what will our energy sources be?” said Smith.  

A New Energy Vision for Canada

Instead of grabbing at targets and statistics, Tides Canada created a document intended to answer those questions and fill the void. Titled “A New Energy Vision for Canada”, the report was the product of a year-long effort that sent Smith across the country to consult with over 100 experts and citizens ranging from First Nations elders to labour and health authorities. 

“People started telling us, ‘We want to support this vision and endorse it’,” Smith said.

“And what we realized is that there are a lot of people across this country who are interested in a clean energy future and who are interested in the solutions. But they’re just working on one part of it.”

Smith explained that while one municipality may be working on promoting wind energy or cycling infrastructure, researchers in another part of the country could be developing cheaper solar technologies. The difficult thing is bringing everything together and making it attainable for the general public.

Integrating the various people and elements was one of the goals of Smith’s New Energy report. In addition to the industry, policy and environmental groups getting involved, Smith said even the religious faiths and churches wanted to put their stamp on it.

“Now suddenly this vision had some weight behind it, and we were invited to present it to the federal government and all the energy ministers across the country in July,” she said.

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