Despite setback, Dewar continues light-bulb crusade

By Janna Graham

A Centretown diner emits a healthy glow. The eggs, coffee and lunchtime specials at Gina’s Café are illuminated by compact fluorescent light bulbs.

“It makes you feel good,” says owner Eddie Osturk, who doubles as breakfast cook for Gina’s, a small, lively diner on Bank street. According to Osturk, a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) gives a brighter light and burns up to 50 per cent longer than standard incandescent bulbs.

“It’s better for the environment,” says Osturk. “And it’s better for a small business to buy a bulb that gives light for a longer time.”

At the final Clean Air Act special legislative committee meeting on March 30, Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar presented an amendment to increase the energy efficiency standards of light bulbs.

The last-minute amendment, which was voted down by the Conservatives as well the Bloc and abstained by the Liberals, would impose new standards on light-bulb manufacturers to produce more energy efficient bulbs.

The Clean Air Act, also known as Bill C-30, is the Conservative government’s pledge to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Although the bill passed first reading of the House of Commons, it was sent last year to a special legislative committee to be rewritten. NDP MP Nathan Cullen stepped aside to enable Dewar to present his last-minute amendment.

Although the Liberals liked the idea in theory, they abstained from supporting Dewar’s amendment without first hearing more background information, particularly third-party testimonials from groups impacted by the issue.

Liberal environment critic David McGuinty says Dewar’s amendment came as a surprise quite late in the process. It hadn’t been seen by any of the committee members during the course of the meetings, held over the past month.

“We needed to get some witnesses talking about all the upsides and some of the downsides – like mercury content and CSA standards before we start calling for the whole replacement of incandescent bulbs.”

McGuinty says Dewar’s amendment was awkwardly worded, but that he has expressed support for Dewar’s mission to find alternatives to the standard light bulb.

Dewar has been crusading to get the spiral-shaped energy efficient bulbs in Canadian light sockets since early March when he proposed a Private Member’s Bill to ban the use of the traditional incandescent bulb.

Dewar’s Private Member’s Bill would take traditional bulbs off the market completely, replacing them with CFLs and other energy efficient bulbs like light emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

The proposed bill follows on the heels of recent Australian legislation to ban all incandescent bulbs by 2010.

“Everyone is grappling with, how do you deal with climate change?” says Dewar. “Incandescent technology is inefficient and doesn’t lend itself to conservation.”

Dewar says his bill addresses climate change in a practical way, saving residents and businesses money.

A 13-watt CFL is equivalent in brightness to a 60-watt incandescent bulb and uses only a quarter of the energy.

According to Dewar, changing just one bulb can saves a consumer about $50 over the course of a year. On average, a CFL costs about $10 more than an incandescent bulb.

Project Porchlight’s Suzanne Fraser doesn’t think government legislation is necessary to convince people to stop buying energy sucking light bulbs.

“Once people know the benefits of using CFLs, they’ll want to make the change for themselves.”

Project Porchlight has distributed 250,000 free compact fluorescent bulbs in Ottawa.

Porchlight has been allotted 1.5 million in this year’s provincial budget to continue distributing CFLs in Ontario.

Fraser says leadership should come from Energy Canada. The federal energy regulatory board hasn’t updated the federal Energy Efficiency Act since 1992.

Fraser says the policy should include increased minimum energy efficiency standards – higher standards under which incandescent bulbs would be disqualified.

Fraser notes that public debate surrounding the idea of banning incandescent bulbs is encouraging. Project Porchlight has endorsed Dewar’s Private Member’s Bill.

Dewar says Liberal, Conservative and Bloc MPs have agreed that his bill deserves support.

A Private Member’s Bill is a member of Parliament’s opportunity to propose legislation. Private bills are chosen on a lottery system basis and there is no guarantee individual bills will be tabled.

At the current rate, Dewar’s bill won’t see the light of day until spring 2008.

Environment Minister John Baird and Natural Resource Minister Gary Lunn declined from commenting until after the bill is tabled.