“Historic” investment in electric vehicles is coming to Ontario after Unifor and Ford reach agreement

In a September 28 press release, the Canadian union for auto workers, Unifor, reports that members at the Ford Motor Company voted 81% overall in favour of new three year collective agreements “that include $1.95 billion in investments to bring battery electric vehicle (BEV) production to Oakville and a new engine derivative to Windsor, along with other significant gains…. ….. This agreement is perfect timing and positions our members at the forefront of the electric vehicle transformation, as the Oakville plant will be a key BEV supplier to the North American and European Union markets”. Under the heading, “Making History in Challenging Times”, the Ford Bargaining Report Summary  reports that the retooling is scheduled to begin in 2024, with the first BEV vehicles forecasted to roll off the assembly line in 2026, “and hopefully sooner.” Also, “Through this conversion, Oakville will become the first mass production BEV plant in Canada – and one of only a few currently in North America. Ford’s investment is also the biggest single facility investment in the auto sector since 2015 in Canada.”

The Bargaining Summary highlights changes in wages, pensions, and all topics, including that the company and union agreed on the advantages of having a union Workplace Environmental Representative, and that additional training will be offered to the workplace environmental representatives “related to Global Plant Action”. Unifor and Ford also agreed to develop an Anti-Racism Action Plan, and to establish a new Racial Justice Advocate position which will offer support to those who face anti-Black and anti-Indigenous discrimination.  

Media coverage of the agreement appeared in the Toronto Star on September 20, pointing out that the federal and provincial governments will also contribute to the re-tooling of the Oakville plant.  On September 22, the Star also published “Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are betting that electric vehicles can recharge the economy. But a vision is not a plan” , summarizing some of the policy context of the decisions. And beyond the benefit to the auto manufacturing sector, on September 17,  Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources was making the case that “Mining gives Canada a competitive advantage in electric vehicle market” arguing that “we are the only nation in the western hemisphere with an abundance of cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel, the minerals needed to make next-generation electric batteries.”

Labour’s perspective on electric vehicles

Unifor’s Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery, published in   the summer, states: “The government must also take the lead in supporting zero-emission vehicle manufacturing and preparing the economy for electrified transportation through targeted subsidies and investment in battery technology innovation. A long-overdue National Auto Strategy, for instance, would help merge Canada’s innovation agenda, trade policy, skills training and infrastructure development to foster a modern supply chain for EV components and parts, leading to final assembly. This need not only apply to light duty, passenger vehicles but other modes of surface transportation, including mass transit, commercial trucking and logistics, student transportation, taxis and light rail. Once in place, such a strategy could serve as a rubric for all transportation sectors and industries.” 

These points are also made by Angelo DiCaro, Research Director for Unifor,  in an essay titled “Canada’s auto sector revival will take more than wishful thinking. We need a plan”, featured in the August/September issue of The Monitor, and at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website.  DiCaro reiterates the call for a national auto strategy, and sketches out key steps for a national Electric Vehicle strategy, starting with Step 1, a “comprehensive mapping of existing capacities and materials needed to forge a complete supply chain for EVs and component parts in Canada”, followed by setting domestic production targets for vehicle assembly and component manufacturing.

Union workers are strong allies for electric vehicles, as Canada’s Unifor demonstrates appeared in the industry newsletter Electrek in June 2020, quoting favourable statements re EV manufacturing from both Unifor and the United Auto Workers(UAW) in the U.S. The UAW published their report, Taking the High Road: Strategies for a fair EV Future in January, making specific policy recommendations, and stating: “The UAW rejects the idea promoted by climate change deniers that fuel efficiency and environmental regulations lead to closed plants and lost jobs. Fuel-efficient vehicles, clean energy, clean manufacturing, renewable energy and other advanced technologies are an opportunity to create new middle-class jobs with good pay, good benefits, and economic security.”

More recently,  the American Center for Progress released  “Electric Vehicles Should Be a Win for American Workers” on Sept. 23 . It concludes: “Federal funding to incentivize consumer demand, drive manufacturer investments, and build out electric vehicle infrastructure should be made contingent on key job quality and domestic content standards. In structuring funding, policymakers must be realistic about present EV capacity while also ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not subsidize low-road employers or erode job quality standards in the broader industry. By designing federal policies that encourage both rapid vehicle electrification and the creation of high-quality, good-paying domestic jobs throughout the EV ecosystem, policymakers can satisfy the priorities of climate and labor advocates and ensure economic prosperity for future generations. In a period of significant economic and environmental challenges, the transition to EVs presents a powerful and positive opportunity to improve conditions for both American workers and the climate.”

Electric vehicle policy in Canada

In response to the news of the Unifor/Ford agreement, Clean Energy Canada published a Media Brief: “What is a zero emission vehicle standard and why does Canada need one?” . It notes research from the International Council on Clean Transportation that found that Canada is the 12th largest vehicle producer in the world but  is responsible for only 0.4% of global EV production. Assessing that Canada has a EV supply problem,  Clean Energy Canada recommends a ZEV standard as the solution, rather than a voluntary standard or consumer incentives.  “A ZEV standard is a supply-focused policy that requires a gradually rising percentage of vehicles sold by auto manufacturers to be zero-emission (i.e. battery-electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles). While purchase incentives help drive demand, ZEV standards secure supply.”  Currently, only British Columbia and Quebec have ZEV standards in place – with B.C. having passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle Act  in May 2019, requiring automakers to meet increasing annual levels of EV sales reaching 10% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040.  On July 30, B.C. followed up with new ZEV regulations under the Act which set phased-in annual targets and other compliance requirements, as well as a ZEV advisory council to be comprised of industry, ENGOs, local governments, First Nations, infrastructure providers and academics, to provide input into the ministry’s EV programming and policies .  

The Clean Energy Media Brief links to many supporting documents, including a recent academic discussion, “Which plug-in electric vehicle policies are best? A multi-criteria evaluation framework applied to Canada”  which appeared in the June 2020 issue of Energy Research and Social Science.  

Canada’s Speech from the Throne sketches out its plans for Covid recovery in pale green

The Liberal government opened the new session of Parliament on September 23 with a Speech from the Throne titled A Stronger and More Resilient Canada.  Acknowledging the perilous moment of history in which it was delivered, Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada states: “Today the Government of Canada delivered the most progressive speech from the throne heard in a generation. The promises made acknowledged the inequalities and vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke to the scale of action needed to confront them. Of course, we’ve heard similar promises before from this government. It is the policy and investment decisions made in the coming months that will determine whether the spirit articulated in this historic speech is turned into meaningful action.”

Stating that “this is not the time for austerity”, the Speech emphasizes measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19.  General summaries by the CBC here and the Toronto Star are here;  Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summarizes and critiques the speech with a focus on inequality, the workplace, and health care.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees response appears in  “Promises are good Proof is better”. The Canadian Labour Congress reaction  is supportive of the Speech and highlights provisions of greatest impact to workers, including the government’s promise to create one million jobs through  “direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.”  Other key promises: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended through to summer 2021; modernization of the Employment Insurance system will address the growth of the self-employed and gig workers; and yet again, “significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system “.

From the Speech from the Throne:  The section titled, Taking action on extreme risks from climate change” :

“….Climate action will be a cornerstone of our plan to support and create a million jobs across the country….. The Government will immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal. The Government will also legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

As part of its plan, the Government will:

Create thousands of jobs retrofitting homes and buildings, cutting energy costs for Canadian families and businesses;

Invest in reducing the impact of climate-related disasters, like floods and wildfires, to make communities safer and more resilient;

Help deliver more transit and active transit options;

And make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable while investing in more charging stations across the country.

The Government will launch a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products and cut the corporate tax rate in half for these companies to create jobs and make Canada a world leader in clean technology. The Government will ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies.

Additionally, the Government will:

Transform how we power our economy and communities by moving forward with the Clean Power Fund, including with projects like the Atlantic Loop that will connect surplus clean power to regions transitioning away from coal;

And support investments in renewable energy and next-generation clean energy and technology solutions.

Canada cannot reach net zero without the know-how of the energy sector, and the innovative ideas of all Canadians, including people in places like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Government will:

Support manufacturing, natural resource, and energy sectors as they work to transform to meet a net zero future, creating good-paying and long-lasting jobs;

And recognize farmers, foresters, and ranchers as key partners in the fight against climate change, supporting their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience.

The Government will continue its policy of putting a price on pollution, while putting that money back in the pockets of Canadians. It cannot be free to pollute.

This pandemic has reminded Canadians of the importance of nature. The Government will work with municipalities as part of a new commitment to expand urban parks, so that everyone has access to green space. This will be done while protecting a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of Canada’s oceans in five years, and using nature-based solutions to fight climate change, including by planting two billion trees.

The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics next year and ensure more plastic is recycled. And the Government will also modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

When the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was closed by a previous government, Canada lost an important tool to manage its waters. The Government will create a new Canada Water Agency to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed. The Government will also identify opportunities to build more resilient water and irrigation infrastructure.

At the same time, the Government will look at continuing to grow Canada’s ocean economy to create opportunities for fishers and coastal communities, while advancing reconciliation and conservation objectives. Investing in the Blue Economy will help Canada prosper.”

Reaction to climate change provisions:

From The Tyee ,“What’s in This Throne Speech Stew? Straight from the pandemic cookbook, it’s light on green garnishes. No election on the menu.”  Reporters at The National Observer agree in “Liberal throne speech targets COVID-19 over climate” (Sept. 23), stating: “Though the Trudeau Liberals promised an “ambitious green agenda” ahead of the throne speech, the vision for the coming months unveiled Wednesday focused more on COVID-19 and its economic fallout.”  Their compilation of reaction from green groups echoes the cautious optimism in a Greenpeace Canada statement  and from West Coast Environmental Law  – which commends “promising signals” but asks “how the climate goals set out in the Throne Speech tally with the federal government’s continued support for climate-destructive projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project.”

In the lead up to the Throne Speech, many green groups had lobbied with their specific proposals : a few examples include an Open Letter to Ministers coordinated by the Climate Action Network; the One Earth One Voice campaign;  and the Draft Throne Speech offered by Greenpeace Canada.

The National Observer highlighted the proposals of the Smart Prosperity Institute in an  Opinion Piece by Mike Moffatt and John McNally ,  “ Want a green, inclusive recovery? You can’t rush that” (Sept. 24).  They condense the arguments from an earlier blog post, ” Making a green recovery inclusive for all Canadians which lays out specific green recovery proposals but warns that a “full recovery” cannot begin until Covid-19 has been brought under control: “The risks of infection from bringing people together, potentially leading to future lockdowns, are too great.”

Recommendations and research from Scotland’s Just Transition Commission

The Just Transition Commission in Scotland released an Interim Report in February 2020, and has continued to provide research as it works towards its Final Report and recommendations for a green and fair transition.  In August, the Commission released Just Transition: Comparative Perspectives, which provides both theoretical discussion and case studies of JT experiences in  Canada, Germany, Peru ,Norway and the U.S.. In a section on Lessons Learned, the report states that the experiences of Norway’s oil and gas industry, and of Peru, are the most relevant to the Scottish situation.  

In July, the Just Transition Commission released its Advice for a Green Recovery from Covid-19. Subsequently, Government’s measures were announced in early September, in Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2020-2021.  The government’s press release highlights “nearly £1.6 billion to directly support up to 5,000 jobs and tackle fuel poverty”. Specific commitments include £100 million for a Green Job Fund; £60 million to help industrial and manufacturing sectors decarbonise, grow and diversify; boosting youth employment opportunities in nature and land-based jobs by expanding apprenticeship and undergraduate schemes in public agencies”….; and  £70 million to improve refuse collection infrastructure , improve recycling, and achieve a circular economy. The plan received lukewarm reaction from Friends of the Earth Scotland.

U.K. Citizens Climate Assembly report reveals a window on public opinion

On September 10, after meetings which spanned 5 months and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Citizens’ Climate Assembly issued its final, 556-page report, The Path to Net-Zero, with over 50 recommendations on how the U.K. should reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 108 member group, ages 16 to 79, was selected to be representative of the country in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, rural versus urban, geography and level of concern about climate change.  Their recommendations, summarized by The Guardian here and by Carbon Brief here, were built on agreed-upon principles that included urgency and fairness – “Fair to people with jobs in different sectors. Fair to people with different incomes, travel preferences and housing arrangements. Fair to people who live in different parts of the UK”.  In general, participants preferred protecting and restoring nature over technological solutions, and stressed the value of ‘co-benefits’ of improved health and local community and economic benefits.  Specific recommendations included measures to decarbonize transport  (including a ban on SUV’s and a frequent flyer tax for air travelers) and a reduction in  meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40%.

The recommendations will be tabled and debated in the U.K. House of Commons, and the six select committee chairs that commissioned the report will provide responses.  A press release by the Assembly describes the process further.

Scientists actually DO know how climate change contributes to California’s wildfires

Despite Donald Trump’s off-hand dismissal of climate scientists on his visit to California’s apocalyptic wildfires, there are plenty of scientists who ACTUALLY DO know how climate change contributes to these disasters. Below are some recent examples of this well-established relationship and impacts.  

Climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme autumn wildfire conditions across California”  appeared in Environmental Research Letters in August. One of the co-authors, Daniel Swain, writes an ongoing blog, Weather West, which chronicles and explains “California weather and climate perspectives” from his perch at the University of California at L.A. Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The Union of Concerned Scientists have also posted an Infographic: Wildfires and Climate Change, which summarizes trends, impacts and costs, including health costs.

Some mainstream media is giving voice to climate scientists :

 “How Can We Plan for the Future in California?” by transplanted Canadian climate scientist Leah Stokes, appeared in The Atlantic (Aug. 23). She is also interviewed by Democracy Now in “This is climate change : West Coast Fires Scorch Millions of Acres & Blot Out the Sun” (Sept. 10).

 “The Burning  West” special feature compilation of articles from Inside Climate News, which includes “California and Colorado Fires May Be Part of a Climate-Driven Transformation of Wildfires Around the Globe” (Aug. 22) and “10 Days of Climate Extremes: From Record Heat to Wildfires to the One-Two Punch of Hurricane Laura” (Aug. 29 ), and “A Siege of 80 Large, Uncontained Wildfires Sweeps the Hot, Dry West”  (Sept. 9), which catalogues the fire events to date.

“A Climate Reckoning in Fire-Stricken California” in the New York Times (Sept. 10,updated Sept. 14)  

These Are Climate Fires”: Oregon Firefighter Ecologist Says Devastating Blazes Are a Wake-Up Call” in Democracy Now (Sept. 14)

Climate change is worsening California’s hellish wildfires” in Yale Climate Connections (Aug. 24).

California wildfires getting bigger, moving faster than ever” in the Toronto Star (Sept. 10)

Climate grief is burning across the American West” in Wired (Sept. 14)

Wildfire Impact on workers

On the Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America’s Workers  was released in July by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and documents the “myriad threats” posed by wildfires, explaining “Increases in wildfires will put more emergency responders and recovery workers in dangerous situations and expose more outdoor and indoor workers to unhealthy wildfire smoke.” The report also explains some of the mental health aftermath and provides dozens of links to scientific research.

Pandemic, Wildfires & Heat Wave: Undocumented Farmworkers Face “Triple Threat” as West Coast Burns” in Democracy Now (Sept. 14).

A Human Tragedy”: Wildfires Reveal California’s Reliance on Incarcerated Firefighters” in Democracy Now (August 25).

In the US West Scorched by Wildfires, We Can Barely Breathe. It’s Going to Get Worse” from the Union of Concerned Scientists (Sept. 14) – an overview which briefly discusses outdoor workers and relies on a 2016 article from Climate Change to conclude: “All told, there are roughly 4.8 million outdoor workers across the western US who are exposed to wildfire smoke in an average year.” 

California Bill Clears Path For Ex-Inmates To Become Firefighters” at NPR (Sept. 11) , describing AB2147 , a Bill which lets prisoners who had worked in California’s prisoner-firefighting program petition the courts to dismiss their convictions after completing their sentences.