Canada enacts Economic Stimulus Plan for COVID-19 amid calls for sustainable investment, not bail outs

With almost one million new employment insurance claims made so far during the COVID crisis and a grim new forecast by TD Economics just published, a special sitting of  Parliament on March 25 passed a economic stimulus package for Canada.  As described in  “Feds rejig benefits to get aid to workers affected by COVID-19” in the National Observer (Mar. 26), the new measures will combine and augment the two  previously announced benefit  programs into one, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit .   The core of the new benefit program will use General Revenues rather than the EI Fund, to provide “a $2,000-a-month payment for up to four months to workers whose income drops to zero because of the pandemic, including if they have been furloughed by their employers but technically still have jobs.” It is promised that the money will reach Canadians by mid-April, with an additional increase to the Child Care Benefit of $300/month/child beginning in May. The Ministry of Finance summary is here ; the fine print is in the Notice of Ways and Means Motion here .

In response to the government’s stimulus, David Macdonald has written  Unemployment may hit 70-year high, but new EI replacement will help”, which appears in Behind the Numbers from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (March 26). Macdonald identifies the  four industries at the highest risk of immediate job losses from the pandemic:  passenger airlines; arts, recreation, culture and sport; retail sector; and accommodation and food services (which alone employs 987,000 workers in normal times).  He then analyses how the benefits announced on March 25 will impact the approximately 2 million most vulnerable occupations within those industries.  The article also forecasts alarming unemployment scenarios across Canada, and specifically in  Canada’s cities, where service workers form a high percentage of the labour force. Some conclusions: unemployment in Calgary could rise from the already high 8.0% to a probable rate of 15.3%, excluding any further oil price shocks; Ottawa could rise from its February 2020 low 4.4% to 11.6% in the worst-case scenario; Toronto could see  an increase from 5.4% to 12.4% in the worst case; Montreal from 5.2% to 13.4%, and Vancouver 4.7% to 13.8%.

Calls for Sustainable investments, not bail outs

In reacting to the March 25 emergency stimulus measures, Julia Levin of Environmental Defence Canada raises the biggest elephant in the room: concern that money will be used to bail out the troubled oil and gas industry .  Environmental Defence warns :

“We applaud all of the federal parties for working together to take this positive step to pass legislation which will help those struggling” …. “But hidden inside this new law were changes that will make it easier for Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada, to funnel billions more towards domestic oil and gas operations — without public scrutiny.”

Others who have spoken out against short-term bail outs: 

Civil society and labour unions: “No New Money For Oil and Gas Companies—Give It To Workers—Say Large Collection of Groups Representing More Than One Million Canadians” ,  an Open Letter to the federal government in advance of the March 25 announcement. It states: “Giving billions of dollars to failing oil and gas companies will not help workers and only prolongs our reliance on fossil fuels. Oil and gas companies are already heavily subsidized in Canada and the public cannot keep propping them up with tax breaks and direct support forever. Such measures benefit corporate bottom lines far more than they aid workers and communities facing public health and economic crises. “

265 Canadian Academics: As reproduced in the National Observer, another open letter to the Prime Minister from academics and advocacy groups  (with a list of the 265 signatories here )

A bailout for the oil and gas industry? Here’s why experts say it’s not a long-term solution” by Sharon Riley in The Narwhal , which notes that the  oil and gas industry has called for a postponement of increases to the federal carbon tax and  “a federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) modeled after the U.S. program developed in 2008 to purchase positions in distressed companies.” The experts who argue against it include Jeff Rubin (former chief economist with CIBC World Markets), Gord Laxer, (Professor Emeritus University of Alberta), Chris Severson-Baker (Pembina Institute), and Ian Hussey (Parkland Institute).  In “Bail out Workers, Not Fossil Fuels, Climate Advocates Tell Trudeau” in The Tyee (March 20),  Geoff Dembicki  discusses the same issues.

COVID-19 crisis is a tipping point. Will we invest in planetary health, or oil and gas?” (Mar. 24)  by Dr. Courtney Howard,  Board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

Coronavirus and the economy: We need green stimulus not fossil fuel bailouts” by Kyla Tienhaara, Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment at Queen’s University, published in The Conversation (Mar. 24). She argues that “Stimulus measures should either provide substantial environmental benefits such as greenhouse gas emissions reductions or re-orientate the economy to low-carbon activities, such as care work and the arts….   bailouts to the fossil fuel industry and airlines would be monumentally counterproductive.”

Tim Gray of Environmental Defence offers some specific alternatives in “How Canada can build an environmentally sustainable future after the COVID-19 Crisis” (March 23).

These same arguments are playing out internationally – Naomi Klein has released a new video at The Intercept,  explaining  how the Trump administration and other governments across the globe are “exploiting” the coronavirus outbreak “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks.” She urges working people worldwide to resist such efforts and demand real support from political leaders during the ongoing crisis.”  In the U.S., the Climate Justice Alliance is part of that resistance, as described in Demand A People’s Bailout that Protects Workers while Ensuring Safe and Sustainable Energy  .

 

U.S. Solar industry rebounds to almost 250,000 workers in 2019

solar jobsThe 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census for the United States was released by the non-profit Solar Foundation in mid-February. It reports  a resurgence in solar industry employment in 2019, following two years of job losses in 2017 and 2018.  The report states that 249,983 U.S. workers  spent the majority of their time in solar-related activities in 2019, and an additional 94,549 workers spent some portion of their time on solar-related work, for a total of 344,532 workers. The full Report is downloadable (with free registration) from this link ,  with a summary here.  It provides state-by-state statistics re job totals and sectors within the solar industry, and profiles the solar industry in California (where the Title 24 mandate went into effect in 2019, requiring all new residential homes to be built with solar PV), and the South-east U.S. The report also forecasts future trends, and  provides discussions of demographics and workforce development, reporting that a majority of employers have difficulty recruiting and hiring. (Through its Solar Training Network, the Solar Foundation published Strategies for Solar Workforce Development: A Toolkit for the Solar Industry  in 2018).

Some highlights from the 2019 National Solar Census:

  • About the industry: Approximately 93%  of U.S. solar establishments work in solar PV electricity generation. 16% of firms work on solar heating and cooling, (e.g. solar water heaters); 7% work on projects related to concentrating solar power (CSP).
  • About the demographics: Diversity remains almost the same as in 2018: women represented 26% of the solar workforce, Latino or Hispanic workers represented 17%, Asian workers comprised 9%, and black or African American workers comprised 8%.
  • About wages: for entry-level unlicensed (non-electrician) solar installers the median wage was $16.00 (the U.S. national median wage for all occupations is $18.58). The median wage for entry-level licensed (electrician) installers was $20.00.
  • Wages for production workers start at $15.00 for entry-level employees, ( national median wage for production workers is $16.85). Wages reached $36.50 for senior-level production employees.

Green Jobs Oshawa still fighting for GM plant conversion; EV investment goes to Detroit-Hamtramck plant

green jobs oshawa logoAn article by former CAW Research Director Sam Gindin appeared in The Socialist Project newsletter The Bullet on Feb. 3.  “Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa” describes the ongoing work of Green Jobs Oshawa to fight back against the closure of the GM Oshawa plant with a proposal to convert the plant to  electric vehicle manufacture. Green Jobs Oshawa commissioned an economic study in 2019, The Triple Bottom Line Feasibility Study  which estimated that the plant conversion could create 13,000 jobs with modest government investment and a worker ownership model. Gindin’s new article seeks to explain why the Green Jobs Oshawa campaign hasn’t succeeded yet, and suggests new thinking and new roles for workers, Unifor at the local and national level, the Candian Labour Congress, and the government. (A related, good-news article, “The man of wind, water and sun” in Corporate Knights  (Jan. 16) profiles Toronto lawyer Brian Iler and describes his efforts, along with the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation  to retool GM Oshawa. Iler is described as “the creative legal mind behind a host of cutting-edge renewable energy projects, social ventures and co-ops that have challenged received wisdom.” )

General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck AssemblyIn the meantime, on January 27, General Motors announced “Detroit-Hamtramck to be GM’s First Assembly Plant 100 Percent Devoted to Electric Vehicles” , promising creation of 2,200 jobs.  Production of an all-electric pick-up truck will start as soon as late 2021, to be followed by an all-electric Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle, and an electric Hummer.  Like Oshawa GM, the Detroit Hamtramck plant had been slated for closure, but the corporate press release states that GM will invest $2.2 billion in the U.S. plant and an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects. Encouraged by favourable tax treatment by the state, GM has committed more than $2.5 billion toward electric vehicle manufacturing in Michigan since Fall 2018 –  recent news of GM’s corporate push to electric vehicles appears in The Detroit Free Press in  “GM bids to buy land for a new battery factory in Lordstown” (Jan. 15) ; “GM commits to $2.2 billion investment and 2,200 jobs at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ” (Jan. 27) and in the New York Times, “G.M. Making Detroit Plant a Hub of Electric and A.V. Efforts” (Jan. 27).

Canadians are trying to find a silver lining, as reported by the Windsor Star newspaper in  “GM’s first all-electric vehicle plant in Detroit will have Canadian spillover benefits” . The article quotes the president of Canada’s Automobile Parts Manufacturing Association: “if GM meets the volume expectations of the vehicles in the Hamtramck re-launch, Southwestern Ontario suppliers may pull in up to 30 per cent of the content opportunities that will arise.”

Which Canadian companies rank as  Sustainable or as Clean Tech innovators?

Corporate knights cover 2020Canadian magazine Corporate Knights recently published the 2020 edition of its annual Global 100 , which ranks the 100 most sustainable corporations in the world.  This overview article describes the environmental and social responsibility indicators which are considered in the rankings, including average CEO pay ratio, the number of women on their boards and female executives, linking executive compensation to targets related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and “the carbon-productivity measure” of revenue per tonne of CO2 emitted.  The ranked list is topped by Orsted of Denmark (formerly DONG (Danish Oil and Natural Gas) – profiled here . The top-ranked Canadian corporation, at 10th position, is Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. , which describes itself as: “a growing renewable energy and regulated utility company with assets across North America. The Corporation  acquires and operates green and clean energy assets including hydroelectric, wind, thermal, and solar power facilities, as well as sustainable utility distribution businesses (water, electricity and natural gas) through its two operating subsidiaries: Liberty Power and Liberty Utilities.”   The Global 100 issue also include general articles which focus on Canadian sectors: “Hydro-Quebec plugs into China’s EV push”;  “The EV Revolution will take batteries, but are they ethical”  ;  “Financing our future with a green building bonanza”, and “The ultimate guide to responsible investing“.

The Global Cleantech 100 report, published in San Francisco,  is an industry-based annual ranking of private companies judged “most likely to make significant market impact globally over the next five to ten years.” An Expert Panel of cleantech investors reviewed over a thousand possible private companies and selected 100, of which 12 are Canadian.  Although U.S. companies dominate the list,  the twelve  Canadians which were judged to be global leaders are : Axine industrial waste-water technologies ; Carbicrete  in Montreal (cement-free, carbon free concrete); Carbon Engineering in Calgary (Developer of technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide at industrial scale); Carbon Cure of Dartmouth N.S.,   (manufactures a technology for concrete producers that introduces recycled CO2 into fresh concrete); Ecobee ,developer of Wifi smart thermostats for home and commercial applications; Enbala  (provider of demand side energy management systems); GaN Systems of Ottawa (Developer of gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors); LiCycle of Mississauga (developer of lithium ion battery recycling technology); Minesense of Vancouver (developer of sensor technology for mine operation) ; OpusOne of Richmond Hill Ontario (developer of optimization solutions for distributed electricity grid systems) ; Semios of Vancouver (Developer of precision crop management systems); and Svante of Burnaby B.C.  (commercial scale carbon capture).

More innovative Canadian companies are profiled at the website of  Sustainable Development  Technology Canada,  an arms-length agency overseen by the Minister of  Innovation, Science and Industry . On January 15, the Minister announced government investment of $46.3 million in 14 start-up cleantech companies.  The list of companies is provided in the press release. 

Labour working for a Green New Deal in Canada and the U.S.

Updated on January 20 to include Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). 

our times jan2020cover re green new dealIn the January 2020 issue of Our Times magazine, “Save this House: A Green New Deal for Canada, Now!”  provides an overview of Canadian labour’s initiatives around a Green New Deal. It highlights the on-the-ground activism of two unionists: Tiffany Balducci, (CUPE member, president of the Durham Region Labour Council and in that role, part of the Green Jobs Oshawa coalition seeking to re-purpose the shuttered General Motors plant  for socially beneficial manufacturing) and Patricia Chong, ( member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance and co-facilitator of  the “Green is Not White” environmental workshops which are co-sponsored by the ACW research project).

Asked to define and envision what the Green New Deal will look like, Chong states:

“If the climate crisis is defined as a problem where we need to move money from greenhouse-gas producing industries to non-GHG producing industry, then the answer is to move the money around. If the climate crisis is defined more broadly as a problem that also includes environmental racism, Indigenous genocide, and capitalism, then the solution is also going to be very different. ….When we talk about a Green economy, we do not want to replicate the inherent inequities we already have.”

The article also names the unions which support a Green New Deal for Canada:  “Unifor, Amalgamated Transit Union, British Columbia Teachers Federation, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and CUPE Ontario. The article concludes with a reference to the Private Member’s Motion on a Green New Deal for Canada, introduced in the new 43rd session of Parliament by Peter Julian, the NDP Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Burnaby British Columbia. His motion, introduced on December 5,  defines a Green New Deal as a 10-year national mobilization to: •  reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions •  create millions of secure jobs•  invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry •  promote justice and equity for Indigenous peoples and all “frontline and vulnerable communities.”   Specifically concerning GND jobs, it calls for :

……(vii) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition, (viii) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all Canadians, (ix) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, (x) strengthening and enforcing labour, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors, (xi) enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas, and to grow domestic manufacturing in Canada….  More details are at the Our Time website ; Julian was one of the candidates endorsed by Our Time in Canada’s 2019 federal election.

OurTime_logoThe youth-led organization  Our Time exists to campaign for a Green New Deal.  An overview of their approach appears in “The future is in our hands— not theirs” in the January/February issue of CCPA’s The Monitor (pages 22-  23). Written by two Manitoba organizers from the Our Time campaign , it includes  the youth-led actions of Canada’s Fridays for Future climate strikers, and focuses on the Our Time campaign in the West.  The authors conclude: “Our Time and the CCPA-Manitoba recognize the need to build stronger relationships with the Indigenous community and beyond. We know that any struggle for a Green New Deal must take direction from those who are most dispossessed by fossil capitalism and most exposed to climate change. We do not wish to reproduce in our organizing spaces the undemocratic relationships of exploitation that have gotten us to this point. We need to unlearn the oppressive practices we frequently deploy, often unconsciously, even when our hearts are in the right place.”

Green New Deal proposals in the U.S.:

brecher no workerIn late December 2019, Labor Network for Sustainability released its latest paper regarding the Green New Deal:  a briefing paper written by Jeremy Brecher , No Worker Left Behind:   Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal . From the introduction: “This paper aims to identify policies that could be actionable by GNDs at national and state levels.… It focuses only on: “GND policies specifically designed to protect workers and communities whose jobs and livelihoods may be adversely affected by deliberate managed decline of fossil fuel burning and other GND policies.”   The document does not endorse one plan over the other – the purpose is to identify and inform trade unionists so that they can make their own determinations.

No Worker Left Behind   includes relevant excerpts from the following U.S. plans:  • Colorado Just Transition law • Center for Biological Diversity Presidential Action Plan • Washington State Initiative 1631 • Senator Bernie Sanders “The Green New Deal – Sanders Details” • Governor Jay Inslee “Community Climate Justice Plan,” adopted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren after Inslee withdrew from the presidential race. • Vice-President Joe Biden “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” • BlueGreen Alliance “Solidarity for Climate Action” • Sunrise Movement “Candidate Scorecard Framework” • Peter Knowlton “Jobs for Climate Justice Demands” • Sens. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Edward Markey “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” • Political Economy Research Institute, “The Economics of Just Transition” • Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Labor Network for Sustainability, “Beyond a Band-Aid”.

A broader discussion of the Green New Deal appears in Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). Although the article focuses on the  U.S. Green New Deal in a historical and political context , Klein continues to cite her “favourite example” of the GND as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers initiative, Delivering Community Power , which she describes as “a bold plan to turn every post office in Canada into a hub for a just green transition.” She continues “….To make the case for a Green New Deal—which explicitly calls for this kind of democratic, decentralized leadership—every sector in the United States should be developing similar visionary plans for their workplaces right now.”

Klein also repeats themes from previous writing, including :

“A job guarantee, far from an opportunistic socialist addendum, is a critical part of achieving a rapid and just transition. It would immediately lower the intense pressure on workers to take the kinds of jobs that destabilize our planet, because all would be free to take the time needed to retrain and find work in one of the many sectors that will be dramatically expanding…This in turn will reduce the power of bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America, who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.”

Finally, her concluding call to action:

“The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets.”

Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” is adapted from Klein’s klein we own the future coverchapter  in We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Stylea new anthology edited by Kate Aronoff, Michael Kazin, and Peter Dreier and released by the New Press in January 2020.  Several other recent articles  have appeared in The Intercept are available on her own website here , and her book, On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal was published in September 2019.