Proposals for Canada’s Covid-19 recovery promised from a Task Force for a Resilient Recovery

A press release on May 19 announced the launch of a Task Force for a Resilient Recovery,  funded by private foundations and led by two research organizations: the Smart Prosperity Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development .  The Task Force promises to develop “actionable recommendations on how governments can help get Canadians back to work while also building a low-carbon and resilient economy” and will release their final report at the end of July 2020.

The Resilient Recovery website is available in English and French.  The websites already include the proposals of the two research organizations:  from the Smart Prosperity Institute – a 25-page “manual”   which provides a Framework  based on nine criteria, clustered in three categories: 1.  does the measure stimulate timely, lasting economic benefits and jobs? 2.  does the measure help the environment and support clean competitiveness? 3. is the measure equitable, implementable and feasible?

From the International Institute for Sustainable Development , a discussion which endorses the May 4  report from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University,  Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?. 

Who is involved in this Task Force? 

Members are listed at the website . In addition to Stewart Elgie of the Smart Prosperity Institute and Richard Florizone of the IISD,  there are fourteen, including Elizabeth Beale, former President and CEO of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council; Barbara Zvan, former Chief Risk & Strategy Officer for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; Don Forgeron, President and CEO of the Insurance Board of Canada;  Bruce Lourie, President, Ivey Foundation; James Meadowcroft, Professor, Carleton University; and Merran Smith, Executive Director, Clean Energy Canada.  The initiative is funded by the Jarislowsky Foundation, Ivey Foundation,  McConnell Foundation, Schad Foundation, and the Echo Foundation.

Notably, this Task Force is unrelated to the May 11 statement  which appeared in The Hill (May 11) from Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff and Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty. Describing their co-operative efforts in the Covid-19 crisis, they continue:  “we are calling on the federal government to strike a task force to develop recommendations on how to reboot the economy. The sheer scale of these decisions requires a variety of perspectives, not least of which will be accommodating the varied needs of the vastly diverse sectors. When it comes time for recovery, we will need broad engagement with governments, labour, businesses both large and small across sectors, public health experts, Indigenous groups, non-profits and academics.”

Disaster capitalism in Alberta – oil and gas producers exempted from emissions reporting, testing for methane leaks

Although the Green Party of Canada has stirred up the hornet’s nest of oil politics in Canada by the “Oil is Dead” statement in May,  Alberta Premier Jason Kenney  continues to reject that idea, in word and deed.  Since the onset of Covid-19,  Alberta environmental rollbacks have been described as a textbook case of “disaster capitalism” and the government has been accused of “out-Trumping Trump . In April, the Alberta government made amendments to the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Water Act, Public Lands Act and the newly implemented Technology Innovation and Emissions Regulations  – providing exemptions to oil and gas operators from reporting air quality emissions from smokestacks, tailings ponds, transportation and dust until Dec. 31, 2020.  Amendments to the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and the Pipeline Act could allow the Orphan Well Association to use federal and provincial emergency relief funds to  produce and sell oil from abandoned wells and operate abandoned pipelines.  Professor Saun Fluker summarizes the changes in a University of Calgary Faculty of Law blog post, “COVID-19 and the Suspension of Energy Reporting and Well Suspension Requirements in Alberta” (April 10). A broader analysis by two academics from the University of Guelph appears in “Disaster capitalism: Coronavirus crisis brings bailouts, tax breaks and lax environmental rules to oilsands”  (April 29, The Conversation), and Sharon Riley has written an  in-depth article , “8 environmental responsibilities Alberta can skip”  (The Narwhal, April 27).  Randy Christensen of Ecojustice has also written a brief article, “Warning: disaster capitalism”, which argues that “the governments of Alberta and Ontario have now made moves that are more far-reaching and potentially riskier”  than the Trump EPA roll-backs announced in March.  The reference to Ontario is based on the Ontario government’s April 1 regulation which temporarily suspends public consultation under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. And Newfoundland could also be considered for the list, according to “Newfoundland offshore drilling: a case of bending environmental impact rules” (National Observer, April 3) .

On May 6, the Edmonton Journal  and the Toronto Star  reported further exemptions by the Alberta government:  from the Star:   “A decision by the Alberta Energy Regulator in May, means that Imperial Oil, Suncor, Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. don’t have to perform much of the testing and monitoring originally required in their licences – including monitoring of  most ground and surface water; most wildlife and bird monitoring, and a reduction of air quality monitoring – with the suspension of testing for methane leaks.”    The Star article argues that many of the changes correspond closely to the demands made  by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) in March in a 13-page letter sent to federal ministers: Covid-19 Crisis Response – Actions Required regarding federal Policy and  Regulations .  Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada is quoted in The Star,  saying he “isn’t aware of any other jurisdiction in the world that has gone as far as Alberta to roll back environmental protections during the pandemic, including the United States under President Donald Trump.”

On May 7, Vice  published “What the hell is going on in Alberta?”, with this opening statement: “It’s safe to say Alberta is in crisis.”

Only 24% of Canadians willing to give up flying to fight climate change – compared to 41% globally

On Earth Day, public opinion polling company Ipsos Global Advisor released a survey  titled, How does the world view climate change and Covid-19? . The survey was conducted during March and April and so includes Covid-19 questions, along with measuring the top environmental concerns of respondents, and their willingness to act to combat climate change.   Top-line results show that:  71% globally agree that climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 and 65% globally support a ‘green’ economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. Sadly, however, there has been no increase since the 2014 survey in the number of people willing to make sacrifices to combat climate change, and the changes they are willing to make are mostly low effort and low impact.

How do Canadian opinions compare to other countries?

Only 64% of Canadians agree with the statement that “In the long term, climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 is” – compared to a 71% global agreement, and 87% in the highest country, China. Only Australia and the United States have a lower  rate than Canada.  Similarly, only 61% of Canadians supported the statement: “In the economic recovery after Covid-19, it’s important that government actions prioritize climate change”, compared to  81% in India and 65% globally.

Globally, the top-ranked environmental concerns reported are global warming/climate change; air pollution; waste; deforestation; water pollution; depletion of natural resources. For Canadians, when asked “what are the top environmental issues you feel should receive the greatest attention from your local leaders?”, 44% responded “global warming/climate change” – the third highest response in the world after Japan and South Korea.  A similarly high concern (44%) was recorded for the amount of waste we generate.  Other concerns ranked surprisingly low – for example, air pollution (23%);  water pollution (22%); future energy sources and supplies (20%); emissions (16%); depletion of natural resources (15%); deforestation (15%) ;  flooding (7%).

air canadaThe final section of the report reports on understanding of climate change and what changes respondents are willing to make to combat climate change. Globally, people are most willing to 1.avoid products which have a lot of packaging; 2. Avoid buying new goods in favour of mending or buying used; and 3. Conserve energy at home.   The three behaviour changes least favoured:  1. Not flying; 2. Eating less meat; 3. Eating fewer dairy products.  Canadians are the least likely in the world to give up flying, with only 24% willing to make that change – well below the global average of 41%. Similarly, only 28% are willing to eat less meat (28% – only 1% more than Australians and Americans) and 22% to  eat less dairy.

The Ipsos summary and press release are here.

How to improve zero carbon skills amongst architects, engineers and renewable energy specialists

accelerating to zero upskill_cover_264x342The Canadian Green Building Council released a new report on April 30, Accelerating to Zero: Upskilling for Engineers, Architects, and Renewable Energy Specialists.  The Executive Summary states: “To better understand what these key professions require in zero carbon education and training, this study was designed to: • Establish Canada’s first professional industry baseline of zero carbon building skills and knowledge among engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists; • Identify knowledge and skills gaps, as well as a preferred learning approach for engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists for the design, construction and operation of zero carbon buildings; and, • Recommend ways that education and training providers, accreditation and professional bodies, and policy decision-makers can support zero carbon building education and training for engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists.”

The report is based on  318 survey respondents who self-reported their perceived knowledge and practical experience for the competencies derived from the CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard. The report makes seven recommendations for actions by professional associations and educational and training organizations, including: updating education and training curricula; use of common terminology across the field; incentivizing members of professional organizations and accreditation agencies to achieve zero carbon competencies; development of a wider variety of learning platforms to suit a variety of learning preferences; making zero carbon building competencies part of the core public sector training curriculum, and supporting the adoption of zero carbon building codes and related training and education.

Accelerating to Zero: Upskilling for Engineers, Architects, and Renewable Energy Specialists is a 48-page report; it was accompanied by a brief  press release   and a 7-page  Executive Summary.  It includes a bibliography, including the related CAGBC 2019 reports   Making the Case for Building to Zero Carbon,  and Trading Up: Equipping Ontario Trades with the Skills of the Future.   Not mentioned, but highly relevant is the 2017 study by John Mumme and Karen Hawley, The Training of Canadian Architects for the Challenges of Climate Change,  published by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project in 2017.

B.C.’s Covid-19 economic recovery plans, and safety, WCB coverage for workers

“What Kind of Recovery Economy Is BC Planning to Build?” appeared in The Tyee (May 6)  discussing the British Columbia Economic Recovery Task Force, appointed in early April.  The article points out that the 19-member Task Force lacks any representation from environmental advocacy groups – although Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour was appointed, along with the leaders of major business and community organizations, in addition to the Premier, cabinet ministers, and senior BC emerging economies taks forcecivil servants. The province also consults with their Climate Solutions Advisory Council, and on May 11, released the Final Report of the  Emerging Economies Task Force, appointed in 2018.  The press release affirms that it “will also be a valuable resource to help inform the province’s COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery”, despite the fact that it was submitted to the government in March 2020, and so pre-dates the Covid-19 crisis.  One of its five strategic priorities  of the Emerging Economies report is titled “Leveraging B.C.’s Green Economy”.

Worker safety as the economy re-opens

On May 6, Premier Horgan announced  Phase 2 , a cautious re-opening the economy. Responsibility for the safe opening and operation of workplaces is delegated to WorkSafe B.C., whose media release states: “As employers prepare to resume operations, they will need to have a safety plan in place that assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, and develops measures to reduce these risks. This planning process must involve workers as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed — this includes frontline workers, supervisors, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and/or worker representatives.” WorkSafeB.C. will issue industry-specific guidance and promises consultation with workers and employers; their general resources for Covid-19 return to work is here

The B.C. Federation of Labour  reacted on May 11 to the announcement that the Workers Compensation Board will add COVID-19 to Schedule 1 of the Workers Compensation Act, thereby granting “presumptive coverage” and expediting workers’ claims.  According to the B.C. Fed, there were  317 COVID-19-related WCB claims in B.C. as of April 29. The B.C. Fed had advocated for the enhanced WCB protection, as well as for the enhanced sick leave protections and $1,000 tax-free provincial Emergency Benefit for Workers, announced in March.

Related Note: On May 7, the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition  released a statement signed by community, advocacy groups and unions, stating:   “As our federal, provincial and municipal governments begin to strategize on their post-COVID recovery and rebuilding strategies, we need to prioritize those most impacted, ensuring that our economic recovery lessens existing inequalities, respects Indigenous rights, and tackles the climate emergency. The pre-COVID status quo was failing too many people. ”