The Road to Net Zero: The Case for Electrifying Canada 

The Road to Net Zero: The Case For Electrifying Canada

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Moderator: Debbie Scharf, Assistant Deputy Minister, Natural Resources Canada

Speakers: Francis Bradley, President & CEO, Electricity Canada; Dr. Bruce Lourie, President, Ivey Foundation; Brendan Marshall, Principal Advisor, Rio Tinto; Susan McGeachie, Head, BMO Climate Institute.

The Transition Accelerator hosted another informative discussion as part of our Pathways to Net Zero webinar series. On January 31, 2023 experts from across the electricity sector gathered to discuss the case for Electrifying Canada – an initiative focused on developing an affordable, resilient and clean energy grid.  This task force convenes diverse groups to accelerate end-use electrification and the build-out of net-zero electricity systems.

While there’s no silver bullet solution to achieving Canada’s net-zero ambitions, widespread electrification will be the backbone of the future clean energy economy. Electricity is an affordable and reliable way to decarbonize large parts of our economy, including high-emitting sectors. In the face of fast-forming global low-carbon supply chains, tremendous opportunity exists to harness and grow Canada’s non-emitting electricity sector to meet new demand. Yet this pressing work is hindered by coordination challenges and networks that are not structured to drive fundamental system change. 

The Road to Net Zero: The Case for Electrifying Canada brought together sector leaders from across the supply, demand and finance sides, as well as from civil society and government to clarify the actions needed to accelerate the buildout of the affordable, reliable, and resilient electricity system of the future.

The challenges identified by our panelists regarding the acceleration of Canada’s electrification start with several regulatory blocks existing at all levels of government: With our decentralized form of federalism, provinces and territories tend to lack alignment. The panelists also emphasized that a one-size-fits-all policy approach will not work in a country as large and diverse as Canada. Several other factors such as pressing timelines, the affordability for end users, ensuring public support, and the question of who would pay for electrifying grids were among the other obstacles discussed.

After discussing barriers, the panel moved on to evaluating opportunities. Canada has many of the critical minerals needed to realize net-zero targets. Additionally, we already have many world-leading green initiatives underway. The Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean aluminum hub in Quebec was highlighted as a notable example because it runs solely on hydropower. As we advance, efforts should focus on creating a greater ecosystem for expertise in order to deepen knowledge sharing. Another critical opportunity identified by panelists is that Canada has some of the cheapest electricity rates in the world: we are starting from an advantageous position. The panel explored how the speed and effectiveness of governments’ responses to Covid-19 can inspire similar action on decarbonization. 

The discussion then focused on how the recently launched initiative Electrifying Canada is a critical forum for achieving Canada’s net-zero targets. The initiative provides a platform where experts can come together and work towards building consensus and information sharing as way to ensure that key players advance short and long-term electrification goals. 

To conclude, the panel answered a wide range of questions from the audience: from economic reconciliation and work with Indigenous communities to the opportunities to reduce demand-side pressures on the grid.

I think the biggest fight ahead is going to be about complacency. There’s a sense among some that the targets that we have, whether the 2035 target or the 2050 target, are not realistic⁠—that they will be missed like all the previous targets, and that that’s a reason to ease off and lower the sense of urgency. But I say we need to redouble our efforts, and we need to push past that. We must hold fast against a political cynicism.

Francis Bradley

President & CEO, Electricity Canada

Our electricity grid was the marvel of the 20th century. It helped birth the 21st century that we now live in. We want the grid to continue into the 22nd century, and we want it to be non-emitting, reliable and affordable. 

Dr. Bruce Lourie

President, Ivey Foundation

We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful, abundant countries in the world with the wealth and natural resources at our disposal that can shape and create the future that we want.

Brendan Marshall

Principal Advisor, Rio Tinto

There are so many different people, so many thought leaders, industry leaders, business leaders, and government leaders putting their minds together to solve these massive issues. I am very optimistic that as a group and as a collective, we are going to be able to find our way through these challenges.

Susan McGeachie

Head, BMO Climate Institute

We are grateful to all our panelists and our moderator for sharing their expertise and insights into the challenge that is Canada’s electrification.

This panel was part of the Transition Accelerator’s Pathways to Net Zero webinar series. The Transition Accelerator is a charity dedicated to empowering and guiding decision-makers toward net zero with the tools and knowledge they need to unlock a sustainable future for Canada.

To learn about upcoming webinars or review our previous events, be sure to visit our webinar page. We’ll see you on February 28, 2023, to discuss “Small Modular Reactors: Promising Climate Solution, or Niche Clean Energy Technology?”.

We welcome suggestions for discussions you would like the Transition Accelerator to host. Email us your ideas!

About Our Panel
ADM Debbie Scharf

Debbie Scharf, Assistant Deputy Minister, Natural Resources Canada 

Debbie Scharf is an Assistant Deputy Minister at Natural Resources Canada, responsible for the Energy Systems Sector. In her role, Debbie is responsible for spearheading one of the Government of Canada’s signature energy initiatives, the transformation of regional energy systems through the Regional Energy and Resource Tables. She also oversees the sector’s Electricity Resources Branch and the Energy Policy and International Branch, both of which are integral to the Government of Canada’s central energy initiatives to realize a net-zero future. A key element of her sector’s mandate is to help catalyze Canada’s economic opportunities in the energy transition and drive governance for the energy enterprise to provide the Deputy Minister, the Associate Deputy Minister and the Minister with integrated decision-making. The Energy Systems Sector also plays a key role in identifying and accelerating the development of regional growth opportunities that will provide Canada with an advantage as we transform to a net-zero economy.  

Prior to her current role, Debbie was the Director General of Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Fuel Branch. She assumed this role in spring 2020, on the eve of an unprecedented global pandemic, with the task of creating the embryonic branch from scratch. During the next two years, under Debbie’s team-driven leadership, the Clean Fuels Branch was integral in delivering several of the government’s central energy initiatives, the Hydrogen Strategy for Canada, the $1.5-billion Clean Fuels Fund and the implementation of $750-million Emission Reductions Fund. Previously, Debbie served as Senior Director, Strategic Energy Policy; and Director, Office of Energy Efficiency, both at Natural Resources Canada. She also held various positions at Environment and Climate Change Canada advancing chemicals management, clean air and climate change files. Debbie holds a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University, and a Master Degree in Resource and Environmental Management from Simon Fraser University. 

Francis Bradley

Francis Bradley, President & CEO, Electricity Canada 

Francis Bradley is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Electricity Canada, the National Voice of Electricity. Electricity Canada serves its electricity industry members through the work of expert professionals led by Bradley and directed by a Board of Directors made up of member CEOs.   Bradley is the co-chair of the National Cross-Sector Forum, overseeing Canada’s Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure. 

He also sits on the Steering Committee for the Electricity SubSector Coordinating Council (ESCC) and sits on the Board for the Energy Council of Canada (ECC). At the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) Member Representatives Committee and Board of Trustees’ meetings, Francis represents CEA and advocates strongly for its members in their activities related to the Electric Reliability Organization Enterprise, and its role in ensuring the reliability and security of the North American bulk power system.  He was recently named to the Positive Energy Advisory Council.  Under the auspices of the University of Ottawa, the Council undertakes research to determine how various energy interests can seek and obtain broad social support for energy policies, regulation and individual energy projects and technologies. 

Prior to being named CEO in June 2019, Bradley managed EC’s day-to-day activities as Chief Operating Officer since 2014. During that time, he also acted as a member of the National Advisory Committee of Canada’s Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and was a co-chair with the Standards Council of Canada of the Smart Grid Standards Advisory Committee. 

Dr. Bruce Lourie

Dr. Bruce Lourie, President, Ivey Foundation   

Dr. Lourie is one of Canada’s most influential leaders and experts on climate change and the transition to a net-zero economy. Best known for his ability to rethink climate problems and develop solutions that benefit both the economy and the environment, he has been instrumental in creating more than a dozen organizations that play a critical role in Canada’s transition to a net-zero economy, including Canadian Climate Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Finance, Farmers for Climate Solutions, Efficiency Canada and The Transition Accelerator. His focus at Ivey Foundation is the Economy and Environment program, which provides funding to these net-zero focused organizations, among others. He also liaises with government, industry, ENGOs and the business community to ensure Canada achieves net-zero by 2050 while remaining economically competitive. 

An engaging and lively spokesperson, Dr. Lourie has a unique ability to translate complex issues into timely and actionable information in both print and broadcast interviews alike and has been interviewed by most major Canadian news outlets. Dr. Lourie is also an experienced and in demand speaker, and has spoken at events such as Global Salmon Initiative’s COP26 Panel, The Trottier Symposium and the 2021 Calgary Climate Symposium, where he gave the keynote address. 

In addition to his influential role in pushing Canada towards net-zero by 2050, Dr. Lourie also initiated the largest climate action in North America, the phasing out of coal in Ontario, and helped shepherd the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and establish of the Ontario Greenbelt. He is also the co-author of two books, Toxin Toxout and Slow Death By Rubber Duck, an international bestseller. Dr. Lourie holds a Ph.D examining the intersection of risk, science and policy. 

Brendan Marshall

Brendan Marshall, Principal Advisor, Rio Tinto  

Brendan Marshall is Principal Advisor External Affairs Canada at Rio Tinto – the second-largest mining company globally and the largest diversified mining and metal manufacturing company operating in Canada.

Bringing more than 15 years of public and private sector experience to the role, Brendan leads federal government engagement providing advice to the business on government affairs, regulatory issues, and policy, including in climate change, energy, critical minerals, tax, trade and fiscal spaces. He partners closely with Rio Tinto’s product groups, communications, legal, and strategy teams to advance Rio Tinto’s key projects and growth opportunities in Canada and globally. Brendan also currently serves as a Director on the Board of the Canadian Manufactures and Exporters and is a founding member of Canada’s Battery Task Force.  

Prior to joining Rio Tinto, Brendan served as Vice President Economic Affairs and Climate Change at the Mining Association of Canada where he led the industry’s critical minerals engagement federally in support of Canada’s first Critical Minerals Strategy. Brendan also led engagement in the climate change, energy, tax, trade, infrastructure, and transportation areas in addition to the association’s work in mining policy and regulation in Canada’s North. Previously, Brendan held several federal government appointments, including with the Prime Minister of Canada, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.

Brendan holds two Master’s degrees in Political Philosophy and Energy Management.

Susan McGeachie

Susan McGeachie, Head, BMO Climate Institute 

Susan McGeachie is head of the BMO Climate Institute, a virtual hub to convene a strategically planned system of technical expertise, enabling policies, incentives, and investment to advance decarbonization and climate resilience for BMO’s clients and the bank. She brings to this role over 20 years of experience identifying, evaluating and managing climate change-related risks and strategic positioning opportunities. Following her years in ESG research and analytics, she held leadership positions in management and engineering consulting firms. Susan is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto where she teaches a graduate course in climate finance, and a member of the Canadian Climate Governance Experts panel. Susan was recently named one of twenty-six Canadian Climate Champions by the Canada Climate Law Initiative and the British High Commission ahead of COP26. In 2014 she was named to the Clean50 and Clean 16 lists of practitioners, which recognize contributions to advancing sustainable capitalism. 

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