2020-05-06

Bridgewater seeks partnerships on energy poverty research

by Keith Corcoran

Bridgewater is joining forces with a Quebec university and the province's health authority in hopes of securing funding toward research into the connection between health and energy poverty.

The financial application is going to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which will announce its decision in July.

The prospect of the partnership with McGill University went over well with town council, which approved the idea.

"It's not everyday McGill comes knocking," commented David Mitchell, Bridgewater's mayor, during a recent council meeting. "And the result will be the betterment of the lives of our people."

Councillor Bill McInnis, added: "It raises our profile to another level."

The application is going to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The research program is titled Energy Poverty and Health in Canada: From Mapping the Problem to Conducting Intervention Research.

"It would add a lot of research capacity and the evaluation component, of which we're required to undertake as part of our Smart Cities challenge project," said Jessica McDonald, the town's director of community development.

Bridgewater won $5 million in May 2019 as part of the Smart Cities contest sanctioned by the federal government. The competition encouraged municipalities to generate life-changing plans for its communities.

Bridgewater's win meant accelerating its energy efficiency goals of lifting at least half of the estimated 40 per cent of residents out of energy poverty. The term energy poverty is defined as households that see electricity and heating costs absorb so much household expense that little money remains for essentials.

Some aspects of the probe proposed by the CIHR, the nation's federal funding agency for health research which is comprised of 13 institutes, includes examining whether or not residents participating in the energy poverty reduction program have better health and well-being outcomes and improved housing security compared to non-participants.

There is no financial contribution required by the town. In fact, at least $250,000 could be re-allocated to other aspects of the Smart Cities work if CIHR is successful with it's grant application.

In correspondence to Bridgewater officials, Mylene Riva, an assistant professor in the Institute for Health and Social Policy, and Department of Geography at McGill, said she was fascinated by the importance Bridgewater put on energy poverty.

"While I am familiar with the international scientific evidence on the topic, I am still puzzled as to why, in a country like Canada, energy poverty is mostly absent from the population health research and policy agenda," she wrote.

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