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ROGER TAYLOR: Important news for Atlantic businesses in throne speech

Governor General Julie Payette, followed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, bumps elbows with Chief Justice Richard Wagner as she arrives to deliver the Throne Speech in Ottawa on Wednesday. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle
Governor General Julie Payette, followed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, bumps elbows with Chief Justice Richard Wagner as she arrives to deliver the Throne Speech in Ottawa on Wednesday. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle

The end of coal power generation is a day that’s coming sooner rather than later, according to the federal government’s Throne Speech on Wednesday.

Ottawa says it plans to create a fund to help end the burning of coal, and it may be a hopeful sign for the Atlantic region over the longer term. Coal mining is dying in the region, and renewable energy has the potential to create many more jobs.

The government’s so-called Atlantic Loop, mentioned in Wednesday’s speech, might also provide some immediate relief for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, which has found itself dealing with the financial fiasco that is the $13-billion Muskrat Falls hydro power project.

Even more immediately, however, the government statement in support of continuing the wage subsidy to help businesses deal with the fallout from the pandemic is good news to many in Atlantic Canada.

Extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until next summer reverses the government’s expected wind-down of the program this year.

By mid-September, Ottawa spent more than $35 billion in wage subsidies to more than 300,000 companies, although the number of workers covered has declined recently.

The government had planned to scale back the wage subsidy program through the rest of the year -- providing a smaller and smaller subsidy each month – but revealed the change of mind in the speech.

Small businesses had warned that revenues had not recovered and their costs have remained high, which meant they would certainly need a subsidy to continue well into 2021.

Ottawa also promised to provide additional financial support for businesses that will have to temporarily shut down as a result of a local public health decision.

Meanwhile, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which has resulted in $78 billion being issued to nearly 8.8 million people, is being phased out.

Anyone covered by Employment Insurance will move to that program and those who don't qualify, such as the self-employed and so-called gig workers, will be moved to a new 26-week "recovery" benefit, which will help to transition every worker onto EI.

About three million jobs were lost in March and April, and more workers had their hours cut during that time, due to the pandemic. By August, however, about two million of those lost jobs were recovered, but statistics also show that about a million people -- women, youth and visible minorities -- have not been able to find work.

To help them, the government is now promising direct investments and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.

In another part of the speech, the government said it will create a new clean power fund to attract investment in companies that make zero-emissions products. The government will also cut the corporate tax rate in half for companies working in that sector – good news for companies like Nova Scotia-based CarbonCure Technologies, which uses carbon dioxide in the cement-making process.

The Atlantic Loop, which would transmit surplus clean power throughout the region, may have a head start since the Maritime Link project, connecting the island of Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, has already been built.

The Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre said in a statement Thursday that this is an opportunity for Atlantic governments and utilities “to reimagine our future energy system and choose a low-carbon, low-cost option over investments in coal and natural gas infrastructure, which are neither clean (including fugitive methane emissions from natural gas extraction) nor sustainable.”

Since the economics of new transmission infrastructure are changing, the Ecology Action Centre said it will want to see a revised scenario modelled in Nova Scotia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan for 2020.


Meanwhile, Nancy Tower, the current president and CEO of Emera subsidiary Tampa Electric and the president of Emera Newfoundland and Labrador during the leadup to construction of Muskrat Falls, announced she would be retiring next year.

Tower will continue to lead Tampa Electric until her retirement, the company stated in an announcement Thursday. The recruitment process for her replacement has begun.

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