Feds to keep more bureaucrats at home, overhaul property portfolio to get to ‘net zero’ emissions

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos will today release the federal government’s plan to drive down greenhouse gas emissions within the federal bureaucracy itself, with the goal of achieving “net zero” by 2050 through a radical restructuring of the government’s property and vehicle portfolio.

The Liberal government’s “greening government strategy” sets new, more ambitious targets to drive down the emissions produced by government operations through a “climate-resilient” approach to the public service and its activities, according to a draft of the plan seen by CBC News.

The plan follows on the government’s pledge last week to implement national, binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.

The multi-pronged approach includes retrofitting buildings, procuring more electric vehicles and staffing adjustments that will give public servants greater flexibility in deciding how and when they go into the office.

Duclos said the government is in talks with public sector unions now about how to make pandemic-related telecommuting a more permanent feature in the working lives of public servants after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

While more employees will be physically present when the pandemic subsides, remote work will become more common than it was before, Duclos said.

“Obviously, no one wanted a pandemic, we all want the pandemic to be over. That being said … once we get through it there will be lessons learned and that will include lessons on how to improve the productivity of public servants,” he told CBC News, adding there will be new “work arrangements” for some bureaucrats.

Federal vehicle fleet to be 80% hybrid or electric by 2030

The government is also proposing greater flexibility in start times for workers so that more public servants can avoid rush hour traffic.

Duclos said cutting the amount of time tens of thousands of federal workers spend in idling cars will result in lower emissions. The government also will look to make carpooling a more viable option for workers.

Under the new plan, the government will begin replacing its massive fleet of vehicles with more fuel-efficient options.

The government owns 20,000 cars and trucks. The new green plan stipulates that, by 2030, 80 per cent of all the vehicles used by the federal government must be either hybrid or entirely electric (EV).

And in what amounts to a first for any government anywhere, the green plan will impose the same standards on cars used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) — with some notable exceptions for tactical vehicles and tanks that don’t yet have electric equivalents.

Duclos said tanks, fighter jets and ships will be exempt, but cars used on military bases or by Mounties on patrol will need to be hybrid or electric.

The government owns 20,000 cars and trucks and the new green plan stipulates that, by 2030, 80 per cent of all the vehicles used by the federal government must be either a hybrid or entirely electric. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

For other modes of transportation in the federal fleet which still lack an electric option — such as planes and ships — the government says it will opt for cleaner fuels to reduce the amount of emissions produced.

Duclos said the  push to reconstitute the federal fleet of vehicles with electrics will create a ready-made market for car manufacturers; Ford already promised last month to retool its Oakville, Ont. plant to make electric cars. The widespread adoption of EVs by Ottawa, he added, could eventually drive down the cost of those vehicles for Canadians.

“It reduces the cost of access. Investments through procurements and the purchase of zero-emission cars — that generates new markets and supports the development of new technologies,” Duclos said.

Starting immediately, Duclos is also mandating that every new building built by or for the federal government be carbon neutral.

Similar standards will apply to buildings that the government leases from private landlords, and 75 per cent of all buildings leased by the federal government will have to be carbon neutral. The government will also pursue energy efficient retrofits to existing buildings.

Duclos said he couldn’t state just how much this plan would cost taxpayers. A spokesperson for the minister said those details will be tabled by the finance minister at a later date. While a price tag hasn’t been publicly released, Duclos said the federal government might actually book some savings through lower fuel and electric bills.

Ottawa to consider dimming the lights

In downtown Ottawa, where tens of thousands of public servants normally work in buildings scattered throughout the city core, lights burn at all hours in government offices even when there isn’t anyone in them.

Even with a great many public servants working from home due to the pandemic, the lights are still on in many of those offices, with few actually working at a desk.

“There is indeed a lot of waste to be reduced in the use of buildings,” Duclos said. “I’m now sitting in my office and I do see lights on in a lot of government buildings … clearly they could be turned off without any significant impact on the quality of the workplace.”

Duclos said the government already has made some progress toward the goal of net zero in thirty years’ time. The government’s overall emissions in 2020 are projected to be 34 per cent lower than they were in 2005.

“We are seeing the right slope,” he said. “We’re confident we can achieve this. We’re leading by example. The government of Canada needs to do its part to support a cleaner environment, a cleaner economy.”

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