Canadian governments need to invest in sustainable building retrofits in response to the COVID-19 financial crisis, said Bruce Lourie, president of the Ivey Foundation and adjunct professor at the School of Policy Studies, Queen's University.

The recommendation came during a live-broadcast conversation between Lourie and Linda Solomon Wood, CEO of Observer Media Group and founder and editor-in-chief of Canada’s National Observer.

Bruce Lourie, President of the Ivey Foundation, and Linda Solomon Wood, editor-in-chief of Canada’s National Observer, talk about the future of Canada's green economy amid COVID-19 on Zoom.

The talk with Lourie was the latest in a series of weekly deep-dive discussions that allow audience members to ask questions to top experts on climate change and global sustainability issues.

Lourie told the virtual audience of more than 400 people that federal and provincial governments should invest in environmentally sustainable and socially equitable construction projects.

“There are buildings in every single town and city in this country that require building upgrades, there are local tradespeople in every single community that could be put to work helping with this,” Lourie said.

Unlike bailing out oil and gas companies, investing in sustainable buildings provides economic stimulus across Canada, Lourie said.

“It gets people to work in every single community in the country,” he said.

He said a key priority within this effort should be housing for Indigenous communities. But convincing decision-makers to invest in energy-efficient building upgrades can be difficult, because it doesn’t create a compelling photo opportunity for those in power.

“You’re not going to see a politician cutting a ribbon in front of insulation (that’s hidden) behind a wall,” Lourie said.

Electrification will also be important in rebooting the economy, he said. This means switching to electric heating in homes and using electricity for manufacturing materials such as steel. Powering transportation with hydrogen fuel cells should also be prioritized, and Alberta is well-suited to help with that transition, Lourie said.

“Right now, Alberta is among the lowest-cost producers of hydrogen in North America.”

During the second half of the event, audience members had the opportunity to ask Lourie questions. A few people wanted to know whether hydrogen could actually be called sustainable if it’s being extracted from natural gas.

“It’s very rare that you go from a bad state to a perfect end state in one go,” Lourie said, of the transition to clean energy. While hydrogen that’s produced from natural gas might not be ideal, there are sustainable ways to produce it that Lourie thinks will eventually win out.

“The end game is a really great, clean system with clean electricity getting clean hydrogen out of water and zero emissions anywhere.”

Alberta has a workforce ready to handle the tasks of storing and transporting hydrogen fuel cells, too, he said.

“In the early transition, much of the hydrogen will be coming from natural gas, so this to me seems like a very obvious opportunity for Alberta to look at what is a future role for energy for them, as opposed to bailing out (the) traditional oil sector, which really, I think is going to be a very short-lived economic activity.”

This live interview is part of Canada's National Observer’s Conversation series featuring topics around COVID-19, the economy and Climate Change. To watch the full conversation, head to our YouTube channel. To stay up to date on upcoming interviews, subscribe here.