Oct 13, 2009

A good example of holistic change: the Ontario Green Energy Act

Barriers to innovation and change have to be addressed holistically. That is one of the conclusions in our "Making it happen" study. A clear example of this has been confirmed to me last week when talking to a couple of people involved in the preparation of Ontario's Green Energy Act.

What makes this particular piece of legislation unique is the integrated and holistic approach it takes to address the intended challenge project. Specifically, the act contains a dozen or more amendments to other provincial statutes, to eliminate specific barriers to the deployment of renewable energy. In other words, the officials and consultants involved in drafting this legislation went to great lengths to identify the barriers and obstacles existing in other provincial laws and statutes that would impede the deployment of renewable energy.

What has intrigued me ever since the Act was first tabled is how these obstacles and different statutes were identified. In other words what was the holistic process used in developing this legislation to eliminate all these obstacles.

Last week, I finally had opportunity to talk to a couple of people who were involved in consulting stakeholders and develop a vision for the act, and who were responsible for drafting the final legislation.

What emerges is a very conscious and deliberate attempt to take an integrated approach. First of all, this initiative was led from the very top in the provincial government, all the way from the Premier's office. Based on our previous work on sustainable communities, such leadership is essential if you want to break silos and build collaboration across jurisdictions.

The process followed a number of steps. Extensive consultations were undertaken through the Green Energy Act Alliance, involving various stakeholder groups: First Nations, farmers, advocates and practitioners, current and retired employees of local distribution, companies and municipalities, civil servants, lawyers, business leaders and a broad representation of nongovernmental organizations. This allowed for each stakeholder group to identify what they saw as the opportunities, obstacles and barriers. A key output of these consultations was the production of a Vision for a Greener Energy System for Ontario.

Another process was taken by senior legal officials in the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure responsible for drafting the actual legislative text. Together with a team of legal experts from other ministries, they examined the specific regulatory/legal obstacles in the various statutes and looked at the legal implications of changing them. When needed, they verified with those responsible for the central policy (which presumably meant going back to Ministers when necessary) to ensure that these could be amended.

My inquiries were by no means comprehensive, or even sufficient to write a full case study. But they do point to a number of elements essential to such a holistic approach:

  1. There was leadership at the very top

  2. There was broad consultation with external stakeholders

  3. There was intensive internal consultation within the provincial bureaucracy led by Cabinet to eliminate legal and other institutional barriers in other Ministries

  4. The process took about three to four months, from November 2008 to February 2009 when the legislation was tabled, i.e. not an exorbitant Amount of time.

In other words, there was a conscious will and focused effort to identify all the barriers and obstacles that would impede the implementation of renewable energy. Moreover, these obstacles and barriers had to be addressed in the new legislation.

This is the kind of approach that has to be far more prevalent at all levels of government if we are to move to a sustainable society.

Incidentally, one of the government lawyers tells me that that he remembers this approach being used only once previously. This was in the 1980s (!), when a consumer protection legislation was being considered.

So we have a long way to go before this becomes prevalent.

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