Feds Axe ecoENERGY Retrofit-Homes Program

The sheer badness of this policy change is galling, even for a government so obviously in the corner of big energy interests

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 01, 2010

A little over a year ago, a Spectator editorial used the story of the Scorpion and the Frog to describe Prime Minister Stephen Harper's seeming inability to transcend his own mean-spirited political nature.

Of course, like many of us (myself included), the Spec editors underestimated Harper's ability to catch another lift to shore.

In that case, Harper's opprobrium toward his political opponents paid off, as he and his party used the prorogue to undermine and ultimately scuttle the coalition of opposition parties waiting for a chance to govern.

Since then, Harper has managed to walk the fine line of giving up just enough to keep the Liberals from pulling the plug on his minority government - though even this new-found spirit of compromise has been subject to the most brazen partisanship and shameless politicking.

Sooner or later, Harper always reverts to form. This time the victim is the popular and highly effective ecoENERGY Retrofit-Homes program.

Under the program, homeowners could undertake an initial energy audit of their homes. After that they had 18 months to make recommended investments in increased energy efficiency, at the end of which they could have a second audit. They would then be eligible for up to $5,000 in total rebates depending on the level of improvement.

Homeowners who had already conducted the initial audit can still complete the program before March 31, 2011, but as of 5:00 PM this past Wednesday, no new homeowners will be allowed to start the progress.

The sheer badness of this policy change is galling, even for a government so obviously in the corner of big energy interests. As Green Venture, a Hamilton organization accredited to conduct ecoEnergy audits, pointed out in a news release issued today:

Green Venture's energy team employs seven staff and provides thousands of hours of green job experience to area youth. Together, they helped homeowners reduce energy bills by an average of 22% in 2009. This represents a combined annual reduction of around $237,000 or $4.7 million over 20 years (at today's energy prices).

The retrofit work associated with these energy audits accounted for approximately $4.5 million dollars and greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 1,800 tonnes. All this was possible with a modest investment of just over $1 million in federal grants.

The impact of the federal government's rash decision on jobs and economic stimulus is even more alarming when you consider the combined number of agencies offering this service across Canada.

Ironically, the Conservatives themselves started the ecoENERGY Retrofit-Homes program in April 2007, a year after canceling the previous Liberal government's modest and late-arriving EnerGuide for Homes program.

Maybe they'll re-re-launch the program again in time for the next federal election.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Really? (registered) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 16:50:30

Why aren't there anti-Harper rallys every month!? This guy has turned Canada from a World Environmental Mentor to World Environmental Periah!

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By Harper's Marley (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 19:46:27

Never before have Canadians had the opportunity to focus all of their anger and potential into one decisive point...

... Canadians, all, each and every one, have a reason (or two) to hate Harper...

I thank him for his march towards stirring citizens to the boundaries of frustration and anger...

...very soon, because of his 'hard' work, we will experience a rebirth of what it means to be Canadian... hopefully something us canucks can feel proud of again...

Thanks for your lack of leadership Harper... I couldn't build stronger consensus towards real change if I threatened to run over a kitten...

...It's just really too bad that you had to get us all spittin' mad in order to rouse us to change... reminds me of growing as a human being while in high school in response to the actions of petty bullies. Hopefully the metaphor is not lost on the over-contemplative Harper.

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By Tecumseh (registered) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 21:40:31

Wow, we just bought a house (got the keys today) and were ready to call in Green Venture to do the initial assessment. What a disappointment. Although knowing Harper, frankly I'm not terribly surprised. We'll be doing a lot of upgrades anyway, but I'm sure there are people who wouldn't do it without the grants. It continues to amaze me that 30% of the population is still willing to vote for these jerks.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 22:35:52

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 01, 2010 at 23:57:20

This sucks. I'm already mad enough about what I've missed out on at this point - low interest rates, the renovation tax credit - add another one to the list.

At least we're in one of the few cities where upgrades are (often) cheaper to do and the houses cost less to start with.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 00:39:40

A sign of the times, Stephen Harper and his Conservative party have been in power since since Feb 6, 2006. Since that time, real GDP has grown from $1,247,807,000 to $1,286,431,000, or around 0.765% per year...


Not only that, but we have gone from having big surpluses to big deficits.

Even if you include the just the first two years of his term, real GDP only averaged 2.69% per year, hardly anything to be proud of. As for Canada being an economic powerhouse, that's only if your yardstick are the other slow growing G-7 economies.

If Canada doesn't smarten up and start building our productive resources, it might not be too long until China is calling the shots. These people are serious about economic growth, have little respect for human rights and are quickly developing the military capacity to take what they want, i.e. water, resources, agricultural land, etc.

Meanwhile back in North America, we are spending most of our money on social benefits, which do little to nothing to build productive capacity and will ultimately limit our ability to fend off potential military threats. Much like nature, it will be the strong who survive and as long as we allow ourselves to become weak and spoiled, we may soon be speaking Chinese and taking orders from the Communist Party.

The big difference between China and G-7 nations is that it is serious about building power. It retains ownership stakes in many of China's biggest companies...


...and one has to believe that it has it's eyes on more than just China. It is already in Africa and there is no reason to think it won't be in South America next. Considering that it has 1.3 billion people and is growing at around 8-10% per year, it won't be long before it's GDP is bigger than the U.S..

As long as Stephen Harper and leaders like him believe that low taxes, high deficits and generous social programs are the way to economic strength, we will continue marching along the path to our own demise. Guess what, in life you get what you pay for. If we aren't willing to get serious about growing our economy, but would rather continue to have free health care and education and old age benefits, there may be a day when we aren't the people calling the shots.

In my opinion, that would be very bad.

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By Larazza (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 03:32:39

I was going to become an Energy Auditor, I paid $800 for an e-course and I was prepared to pay roughly $10000 for hands-on training, blower door, other business related products to launch my new career. I knew the program ended in March 2011 but I figured I'd have good work for 2010. I feel regret that I am seeking a career with a one year shelf life. Things change too fast!!

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By Cassandra (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 06:20:06

Harper is bad news! That is why we should keep electing NDippers in this city. They will make a real difference!

And if you believe that, there is a parcel of land in Cootes' paradise I'd like to sell you!

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 14:43:26

@ More roads,

I'm not going to waste my time argueing with you. All I have to say is that considering the world-wide economic mess, Canada has emerged stronger and better positioned than any other country. If you're that unhappy, try living anywhere else... you'll be begging to come back in no time.

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By Lose the rose tinted glasses... (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 15:56:02

To: 'A sign of the times"...

We emerged strong because we went in strong because we have always held a position of global superiority as a result of our, at the moment, abundant natural resources...

...if you desire to attribute all of the amassed wealth of those resources developed over the last 4.5 billion years to a fat, greasy, 40-something politician, who was by chance alone, in the right place at the right time, with the right apathy...

...well, then, i now see exactly why Canada and Canadians are screwed... perhaps in part of short-sighted, simpletons like you who think they are developing basic understandings of the reality around us, when in fact they are cementing their bad beliefs with what is essentially 'the stuff of magic'.

If that were all you folks were doing then that would be ok, but you persist to peddle your malformed concepts to the others like you who desire only a simple and aesthetic understanding of things...

Unlike you, i will waste time arguing, because if folks like me don't correct folks like you we are doomed before we start...

Harper NEVER propped up Canada... it is actually Canada that continues to prop HIM up, and the rest of us, for that matter.


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By canbyte (registered) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 18:01:49

Interesting comments - the usual RTH crowd went AWOL?? But more general than topical.

While it would be easy to cry about canceling the ecoEnergy initiative, the flip side of this coin is that the poor will no longer be subsidizing the rich to do expensive upgrades, not affordable by the poor. I say hooray.

Unfortunately Harper's changes to Canada's Environmental Assessment requirements, while recognizing the dysfunctionality of the system, effectively handed the environment to big business. Boo.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 18:17:59

A.S.O.T.T, "Canada has emerged stronger and better positioned than any other country."

These are some economic results courtesy of Indexmundi...

Last 4 years, average GDP growth
Australia 2.5%
China 10.1%
Singapore 3.7%
South Korea 2.8%
India 8.0%
Chile 2.75%
Pakistan 4.3%
Costa Rica 3.7%
Morocco 5.5%

CANADA 0.85%

If Harper is doing such a great job, why is our economy growing slower than Pakistan, Costa Rica and Morocco. We have far more university grads/capita, a better legal system, more transparency and yet, the Conservatives can't grow our economy even 25% as fast as Pakistan.

How do you explain Australia's success in staying close to 3% growth? They have a similar economy to Canada, with services accounting for about 70% of GDP and industry around 30%, yet they grew almost 3X as fast as we did.

If you look at Canada's GDP growth under the Liberals, prior to the GST cut and many of the corporate tax rate reductions that began under Paul Martin, we averaged 2.99% growth from 1999 to 2005.


Not great, but 3.5X better than Harper and the Conservatives.

"If you're that unhappy, try living anywhere else"

Most people in Canada are unhappy with Harper, that's why he can't get a majority government, should they move too?

A better solution would be to vote Harper out and allow someone who doesn't want to bankrupt the Federal government into office. All Harper has done since he has been in office is to cut tax rates, hand over money to the provinces and run up his government's debt. In other words, he has run the government as if he wants to see it get weaker. Guess what, it worked.

In contrast, China's government is all about enriching itself. It owns stakes in large sections of the economy, has a publicly owned rail system, and has very low public debt. Another thing that China has is a huge pool of savings that it gets from social security contributions, According to the World Bank, these rates average 44% of a company's payroll. In Canada, pension contributions average around 7%, and even at that rate, contributions top out at salaries over 45k.

If a strong government destroys economic growth, which is what Harper seems to believe, how would you explain what is happening in China? They have a very strong government and they also have an economy on steroids. It's economy is running laps around ours.

I call the Chinese economy a strong government economy. Stephen Harper and George W. Bush run/ran the economy the complete opposite way. They both believe that government should be weak. Both of them also produced poor economic growth and are unpopular amongst the people. Hopefully someone figures out this out before we lose any more ground to countries that want to be successful.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 21:58:08

@More roads:

And yet if Canada was worse off, you'd be laying all the blame on Harper. There is simply no pleasing people like you. Look at our other options: Jack in the box and Mr. USA Iggy. If either of those clowns were in charge, we'd be in BIG trouble.

Australia - Nicely run, extremely efficient government. They are a role model.

China - It's easy to grow at double digits when little or no labour, environmental and social laws exist or are enforced.

Singapore - Efficient, well run government, low taxes.

South Korea - Advanced open economy with excellent trade relations with China, Europe and the Americas. Have you seen the electronics that come out of that country? The cars they make? Impressive. They have been able to do everything Japan can do at half the price.

India - Highly educated work-force who are willing to work for peanuts.

Chile - South America in general has been doing extremely well, excluding Socialist Venezuela.

Pakistan - Who cares about this crap-hole? I wonder what their GDP would be like if you took weapon production and terrorist training out of the equation?

Costa Rica - Low taxes and a thriving tourism industry have no doubt helped.

Morocco - Privatization of previously government controlled sectors have contributed to their growth. They're merely playing catch-up.

I find it interesting that you would compare Canada's economy to the above, very different economies …

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 22:10:24

With the economy picking up, just being practical, Harper doesn't see any more need for stimulus for the big box home industry. It's really amazing how he can leverage a minority into an effective majority by slipping little stuff like this into budget (confidence) motions.

Canada needs to get rid of confidence motions. Parliament should be voting on one thing at a time, not confounding every decision with political gambling.

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted April 02, 2010 at 23:34:38

Wow, hard to comment on a lot of this. I do feel however, that the other options for government are, to say the least, quite scary. Just look what the Liberals are doing to Ontario..... Basically we need stronger government that will actually do some positive things to improve our country without worrying about the minority of special interest groups.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2010 at 02:50:36

A.S.O.T.T., I go back to the idea of comparing our economy to a person wanting to get stronger and healthier. How best to do that? Well, one way is to hire a personal trainer who forces us to run hills, lift heavy objects and otherwise causes us to suffer physical discomfort. If the personal trainer is tough and doesn't let us quit, we end up with a healthier, stronger body.

If Stephen Harper was Canada's personal trainer, he would be the kind that reduced the amount of weight we lifted, shortened the distance we run and he would also buy us junk food. In other words, he would try to make us as happy as possible. What would that get us? Excess fat, poor endurance and no forward progress towards our goals of getting in better shape.

In contrast, a politician that is willing to tax the private sector at high rates, take ownership of large pieces of the economy, pay off government debt and otherwise place lots of demands on the private sector, will end up making the economy stronger. It is not that the government is more efficient than business, it's not, it's that without the government providing stress on the private sector, it has little reason to adapt and get stronger.

So whenever you hear a politician tell the people that we need to reduce taxes, think about what that means.

If the private sector needs the government to make life easier for it, that is a sign that is already weak and out of shape. That's what Stephen Harper has done with corporate tax cuts, the GST reduction and his accumulation of government debt. All of these things are tailored to make life easier for businesses and individuals, but when you do that, you also create weakness.

This has been Stephen Harper's guiding principle so far, making life easier for the private sector and the result is an economy that has very little strength. If P.M. Harper decides to get tough on the private sector, that's when the economy will really start to grow stronger and at that point in time, he would likely get a majority government.

Keep in mind that after WWII, Canada had much higher tax rates than today, lower levels of spending on health and education, higher levels of military spending, decreasing debt levels, yet the economy was extremely strong.

Since that time, anti-government governments have cut tax rates, increased debt levels and social benefits, all things designed to make life easier for the private sector. The result is an economy that has slowed down every decade since 1950 and has now entered the worst period since the Great Depression.

China does not follow this economic model, where the private sector is catered to and the result is economic strength. Unless Canada and the U.S. get real, the much tougher Chinese people will be the ones calling the shots. It's time to get serious about this, because having a world where a dictatorship is the most powerful country in the world does not bode well for peace and our way of life.

The time for enjoying our big welfare state is now over, it's time to get back to work.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 03, 2010 at 09:26:10

FYI I'm pretty sure "More Roads" is just "A Smith" under a new screen name.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted April 03, 2010 at 17:20:24

More Roads:

We can agree that China is a worry and we better shape up. But to ascribe China's strength to high DIRECT gummerment involvement in the economy without acknowledging low wages, low starting point, burgeoning energy utilization and many other factors is to misrepresent reality. Plus, last I heard, overall taxation of the Canadian economy (not just federal) has been growing not declining for decades, notwithstanding that wartime taxes were higher. War/ Post war years should not be comparable to recent times unless one also considers how P Trudeau undid McKenzie King's brilliant move of bringing money creation under government control (ie not bankster control as is now) - something akin to China's pegging the Reminibi way below the dollar which has had a huge effect, no?

Rather than socializing our economy as you suggest, or making more sludge for the private sector to wade through, perhaps a little downsizing and privatizing of the bloated health and education sectors should be tried. To reverse your logic, the private sector should "stress" the gummerment sector so it can grow stronger by losing the fat it has accumulated over the decades of boomer irresponsibility. We might agree that the private sector has been too much coddled but the rise of the loonie is putting an end to that and will continue for awhile yet. So lets just agree that reducing the burden of public debt would be a good and responsible thing to do. How this is accomplished (raising taxes or lowering benefits) is the subject of proper debate. I lean toward the latter.

Comment edited by canbyte on 2010-04-03 16:24:45

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2010 at 21:49:58

canbyte, how do you like the idea of the City of Hamilton buying shares in Tim Horton's and other popular businesses? This would improve the balance sheet of the city, but it would also generate more excitement than simply paying down debt. In this Hamilton municipal investment fund, each citizen of Hamilton would become part of the investor class and enjoying the dividends that these investments would bring over time.

The city could even set up a website that listed all the companies that people were now co-owners of, making paying taxes an almost fun thing to do.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted April 06, 2010 at 13:36:02

More Roads:

If you want to make supporting gummerment more exciting, just remind everyone they can buy a lotto ticket anytime.

I recall you posting a similar idea on another RTH thread recently - city to buy up derelict properties downtown. I challenged you then to put your money where your mouth is - by being an investor.


Here you fade from the specific to the general, from derelict properties that the city might arguably be justified in owning, (the city is always the owner of last resort when taxes go unpaid) to wanting the city to buy shares in anything at all!

Why anyone would want the city to become their mutual fund manager is quite beyond me. Given our 16 feeble minded goats can't understand or fix up one city, how do you expect them to understand multiple random businesses as well as the deficient heap they are already mismanaging???

Your idea sounds a bit like Russia in its Commie days. Everyone owned everything then. I understand that "paying taxes was an almost fun thing to do" - compared to the alternative!
Cheers ;-)

Comment edited by canbyte on 2010-04-06 12:38:38

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2010 at 15:53:30

canbyte, the big problem with Hamilton, as I see it, is that the people have been under-taxed for decades. Buying up properties and fixing them up, or buying up shares in companies, are both ways that the city can use taxpayer money to fund future growth.

The alternative is to under-tax, allow roads and sewers to fall apart, make the government's financial position even weaker than it is and watch as Hamilton becomes a smaller version of Detroit. The people there have been under-taxed for decades as well, and the result has been crumbling infrastructure and falling home prices.

The State of Michigan does not help the situation either, as it spends one of the highest percentages of GDP on public health, education and welfare. It's the freebies to people that wreck government finances, not investments in businesses or infrastructure, both of which make the government wealthier.

If the USSR had forced people to buy their own food, shelter and medicine, and then taxed them to build up the military and other public assets, it would never have collapsed. This is what China is doing today, allowing the market to create profits and then simply taking what they want to build up their balance sheet.

Communism failed because it placed too many demand on the state. To the extent that Canada is now doing the same, with our ever expanding social benefits, like free health care and education, our governments will suffer the same fate. Look at the U.S., people hate both parties and it's not because of over taxation, it's because governments are trying to buy their votes with freebies. In the mid to late nineties, the government reduced spending, raised taxes and improved its balance sheet. The result? People were happy. And they were happy because they were treated like adults, not like children who need an allowance.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted April 06, 2010 at 21:50:19

More Roads:

Your thinking is much too clear, much too perfect. My world is much muddier, more complicated and interrelated to make such sweeping statements without considering complications and consequences, both immediate and long term.

No doubt, socialist freebies are expensive and often counterproductive, health being a prime example, but to thus somehow imply that our city council could invest properly (better than individual citizens) is a stretch. In fact it seems your 'evidence' (of the failure of socialist freebies) should actually be considered proof that "politics is politics" - ie. politicians at all levels are equally subject to inherent temptations and therefore equally incompetent to be in charge of my investment dollars. Tell me again, just why you (via the city) are so anxious to get hold of my investment dollars?? Methinks, you must have none of your own!

I think Americans hate both parties, partly because it is UnAmerican to not hate the other party and partly because both parties are 'run' by Goldman Sachs by way of graft thinly disguised as 'contributions' and the resultant costly 'earmarks' weaseled into US legislation nowadays. Taxpayers, feeling looted, by well bonussed banksters and complicit gummerment, of jobs and real wages, and being handed the bill in the form of future taxes, are now resorting to Teaparties to vent their frustration. We can hope that someone is listening and reacting but I see NO evidence so far.

The mid 90s worked because the (first) bubble was just getting started, interest and oil prices were subsiding and taxable profits were growing. Both Clinton and Bush(es) were busy undoing constraints like Glass-Steagal which allowed creation of massive amounts of money (and shares) right out of thin air. Naturally, every adult was happy to revel in this river of riches, especially as we were told we were working responsibly for it. Only later did we realize that using the house (or your gummerment welfare schemes) as an 'allowance giver' was really just childish selfishness that would eventually collapse.

Much muddier, more realistic, no?

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 12:41:27

Then again, More Roads, the brewery fiasco provides the perfect laboratory for your idea. Dunno if i want the city involved but a perfect opportunity to put your money where your mouth is, no?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 13:30:57

Your thinking is much too clear, much too perfect. My world is much muddier, more complicated and interrelated to make such sweeping statements without considering complications and consequences, both immediate and long term. - canbyte

Well said canbyte.

Once again asking for "more taxes" More roads? We are over taxed in this country not under. Our problem is government waste: entitlement, ridiculous pensions, high priced "consultants", limo rides for bureaucrats, office furniture budgets, high priced studies that never have the recommendations implemented, boondoggles, greased palms, etc… but you want to give more money to them so they can invest it and make paying taxes "fun"?

I'm at a loss for (polite) words.

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