Natural Resources Canada’s People-Centred Just Transition discussion

The following addresses the specific questions included in the People-Centred Just Transition Discussion Paper.

Blue Green Canada was founded in 2010 by Canada’s largest private sector labour unions and prominent environmental and civil society organizations to advocate for working people and the environment by promoting solutions to environmental issues that have positive employment and economic impacts.

For more detail on Blue Green Canada’s work toward just labour and energy transitions refer to the attached reports or visit http://bluegreencanada.ca.

How important is it for the federal government to assess potential impacts on workers and communities when considering climate change action?

We have less than ten years to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions; failing to act on climate change is not on option. The federal government has climate plans but it does not lay out plans for the future of workers, particularly those working in oil and gas extraction that aligns with the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, leaving people with an uncertain future.

It is crucial that the federal government understand and consider the impacts on workers and communities when acting to address climate change. We must plan for well-managed and inclusive transitions to a zero carbon economy and that plan must be guided by those impacted communities and workers.

As we collectively act to meet the challenges of climate change, we must do so building an inclusive movement that addresses the needs of the Indigenous, young people, workers, women, newcomers, and even environmentalists. We must find solutions so our economy is just, green, inclusive and fair.

Are the draft just transition principles meaningful to you? Are the draft just transition principles broad enough to be flexible to unique and differing needs but specific enough to be effective?

The four principles are broad but shallow. For instance, nowhere in the discussion report will you find the words “fossil fuel,” “oil,” or “natural gas;” As well no mention of “retirement,” “union,” “security,” or even “equity.”

The seven principles drafted by federal government’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities offer a better starting point. Once again they are:

  1. Respect for workers, unions, communities, and families;
  2. Worker participation at every stage of transition;
  3. Transitioning to good jobs;
  4. Sustainable and healthy communities;
  5. Planning for the future, grounded in today’s reality;
  6. Nationally coherent, regionally driven, locally delivered actions; and,
  7. Immediate yet durable support.

Are there other actors who need to commit to such principles?

Organized labour and the broader social justice and environmental movements have, for the most part, already committed to the principles of a just transition. Canadian governments at all levels have generally indicated support for a just transition principles but, to date, no government has actually implemented a just transition plan that comes close to what workers and advocates have demanded.

What should be the mandate of the advisory body?

The advisory body is not a solution. The federal government should create a permanent federal authority that has the mandate to ensure our transition to a low-carbon economy is a just transition. At the moment the issue of a fair and equitable transition for workers as we move to a low carbon economy is divided among several ministries in the government. The experience of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities was that its proposals would require cooperation of many ministries including: Ministries of Labour; Finance; Infrastructure and Communities; Northern Affairs; Innovation, Science and Industry; Natural Resources; Public Services and Procurement; and Environment and Climate Change. The result of the failure to assign the issue of transition for Coal workers to one ministry as been that virtually none of the recommendations from the report have been implemented.

Whether this is a new ministry or a multi-ministry body, the new Just Transition Authority must have central power across multiple ministries to propose and implement a true just transition plan for all Canadian workers. Further, the work of the Authority should be guided by a new Just Transition Act, as was promised by the government in the 2019 election campaign.

Crucially, this new body must be adequately funded both to have the capacity to carry out its operations and more importantly to invest in a just transition in Canadian communities.

Who should be on the advisory body?

The work of the permanent just transition authority should be informed by experts from organized labour, the environmental field, economic development, social work, among others. The authority should become an expert clearinghouse on the workforce implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy and have staff that can travel and visit affected communities. It should provide funds for projects that create jobs and opportunities for communities affected by the low-carbon transition based on transparent criteria.

Whom should the advisory body’s recommendations be aimed at?

The just transition authority’s recommendations should be primarily aimed at the federal organizations responsible for the implementation of just transition legislation, which likely includes Natural Resources Canada; Employment and Social Development Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. However, employers must also be compelled by the authority.  A goal of leaving no one behind in this transition requires rules and interventions to ensure companies commit to things like full employment, jobs guarantees for impacted workers, and respect for collective bargaining agreements.

An ineffectual advisory body could be worse than no advisory body at all.

What do you see as the main economic opportunities and challenges associated with the transition to a low-carbon economy?

The initial challenges are clear: hundreds of thousands of workers in dozens of communities depend on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods. An unmanaged transition to a low-carbon economy will cause significant hardships for these people and regions. We need our governments to give employers and workers certainty on likely future constraints on production, by planning for a 1.5°C aligned oil and gas output pathway that addresses Canada’s fair share contribution to global climate action.

Workers need governments to be honest about the future of work under a globally equitable 1.5-degree aligned framework. Meeting this temperature goal, and doing so at an accelerated pace relative to other countries, as is Canada’s fair share obligation, requires constraints on fossil fuel production which will limit the number of jobs in this sector in the future. For decades Canada has relied on export oriented economic strategies to fuel private sector growth in Canada. This has benefitted our resource sector, including the fossil fuel sector. But if we are to transition away from an export oriented energy economy, Canadian workers are left to wonder what will replace those jobs? Canada has not had a domestic industrial strategy for decades, nor have we paid much attention to growing our domestic market for manufactured goods. As a result, our economy has increasingly become dependent on the extraction and export of raw unprocessed resources.

We need an active government to take the lead in protecting and developing specific strategic industries. At the same time, new opportunities are emerging for clean industries that will provide new jobs and can be a path to mutual worker and employer success.

More generally, Just Transition plans and policies should not be limited to workers who are in energy intensive industries, or who are directly or indirectly employed in the fossil fuel sector. Of course it is important that Canadian worker transition plans prioritize the transition for these workers, but the reality is that the transformation of the Canadian economy towards the objective of reaching net-zero by 2050 will ultimately affect every workplace in the country. Whether you are an auto worker, an education worker, a postal worker or a health care worker, workplaces and production processes are going to change.  As a result, we submit that the government must consider mandating joint worker-employer low carbon transition committees for every Canadian workplace. Just as health and safety are issues in every workplace, so will decarbonisation be an issue in every workplace. Workers and unions must have a place at the workplace table to consider the changes that decarbonisation will entail.

Are there specific groups or communities that may be at greatest risk of being adversely affected on the path to net zero? What steps can be taken to ensure they are in a position to benefit from this transformation?

The Canadian oil and gas industry, including upstream activities, pipelines, and services, provides approximately 167,000 direct jobs and 238,000 jobs across supply chains. In response to oil price crises, industry’s solution to protect profits has historically been to slash jobs while maintaining output. As a result the number of jobs per barrel of output has already fallen by 20% since 2000. Yet, this discussion paper does not directly or even indirectly refer to Canada’s oil and gas sector.

Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, the federal government must create a just transition strategy that holds governments accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

One step toward this would be to tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees. This would be a more effective approach than blanket grants and payments without conditions.

Please provide any other information, evidence or research you consider relevant to this work.

Blue Green Canada has been engaging on just transition issues since our founding in 2010.

From 2016 – 2018 we hosted three summits on just transition and good jobs for Alberta which brought together workers, environmentalists, elected representatives, and other decision-makers to discuss key issues including the impacts of the phase out of coal-fired electricity generation, what is needed for a just transition, job training opportunities, the growth potential of renewable power, the importance of energy efficiency, and creating good green jobs for Albertans. The summary reports from these gatherings are available here: 201620172018.

Today we will be releasing our latest report Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions which relates directly to facing the challenges ahead.