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Will Communities Be Centre Stage in the Forthcoming Mandate Letters?

With the announcement of the new federal cabinet, we now await the mandate letters. This is an important moment in setting the direction of all federal priorities.  At QUEST, we argue that if the government is to get it right on energy and climate, they will have to give communities the centre stage.

The Smart Energy Communities (SEC) approach offers real potential for uniting the country on energy and climate. Through this on-the-ground approach, the QUEST network has been advancing climate and energy solutions across partisan, geographic, and sectoral lines. And it is working

“The Smart Energy Communities approach is flexible and inclusive and recognizes the diversity of our communities.”

The SEC approach has several benefits at the local and national level. First, a SEC approach is flexible and adapts to the diversity of our Canadian communities. Whether large, medium, or small; urban, rural, or remote; resource-based;  Indigenous, coastal, inland, or in the mountains, each community is unique. 

Their influence is significant. Our communities influence more than half of all energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. 


Energy Use in Canadian Communities


Source: Natural Resources Canada. (2016) Comprehensive Energy Use Database.


Secondly, Canadian communities are made up of very diverse stakeholders such as municipal administration and local elected officials, utilities, developers, businesses, regulators, and more. These and other key stakeholders that have an interest in their local energy system and infrastructure, best understand the opportunities in their specific geographic region. The SEC offers a flexible and inclusive approach: the set of integrated and systemic SEC policy and technical principles they adopt can be tailored to the local context and offer extensive participatory and collaborative stakeholder engagement.

“The Smart Energy Communities pragmatic approach advances Canada’s economy and energy transition.”

Thirdly, SECs have the potential to decrease polarization on climate and energy. By more visibly advancing SECs – Canada can contribute constructively to a much more sustainable energy future, bring the country together, and perhaps, lower the temperature of the debate and better position Canada in international discussions. 

By shifting the conversation toward Smart Energy Communities we talk about what matters to Canadians in their day to day lives – more sustainable systems, new economic opportunities, improved local environmental quality, more resilient infrastructure, and affordability. This shift of perspective has the potential to open up for concrete and constructive energy and climate dialogue on policy and programs as opposed to a sometimes abstract, almost always divisive political debate. 

Canada is not alone in facing these challenges; many countries are exploring means to shift away from big and long-distance energy infrastructure to increase emphasis on locally-created solutions. If Canada can demonstrate its own capacity to develop such solutions, its leadership could be of help to other countries where there are numerous barriers to big energy infrastructure and there is a need to find more practical and cost-effective local solutions. 

“Smart Energy Communities are already here and they need federal support and recognition to grow.”

The country is already on the SEC train and QUEST has been at the forefront of this work, collaborating across sectors and jurisdictions to grow SECs. The Smart Energy Communities Benchmark, Community Energy Planning and Resilience Workshops, and convening energy leaders through Working Groups and the Smart Energy Leaders’ Dialogue are just a few examples. 

In the short term, it is critical to raise the profile of the SEC approach as an energy, economic and environmental solution, and to dedicate tools and resources for communities to measure progress. To level the playing field among communities and see real results at the local level, Canada needs to support and grow SECs. 

We propose that the Government of Canada make a commitment to supporting SECs through reference to the SEC approach in the mandate letters of Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, and Infrastructure Canada at a minimum. This also aligns with federal government commitments to support communities and the economy while fighting climate change by transitioning our energy systems.

Tonja Leach

Tonja Leach

Executive Director, QUEST

Tonja Leach became Executive Director of QUEST in 2019, having been with QUEST since its inception in 2007 in a number of roles of increasing responsibility. She has been instrumental in establishing QUEST’s extensive national network and ensuring that QUEST is known as the Canadian organization that accelerates the adoption of efficient and integrated community-scale energy systems in Canada by informing, inspiring, and connecting decision-makers.

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