Alberta Federation of Labour’s 12-point Plan, and the art of communicating Just Transition

AFL-Final-logoThe Alberta Federation of Labour has launched a campaign “by and for Alberta’s workers” in advance of the provincial election in Spring 2019. The  Next Alberta Campaign website compares the party platforms of the NDP and the United Conservative Party (UCP) , characterized as  “pragmatists” and “dinosaurs” – with a clear preference for the pragmatist NDP platform.  In a March 13 press release, the AFL also released their own 12 Point Plan with this introduction by Gil McGowan, AFL President : “The old policy prescriptions of corporate tax cuts and deregulation .. are particularly ill-suited to the challenges we face today. And simply waiting for the next boom, as Alberta governments have done for decades, is not an option because it probably won’t happen. Like it or not, our future is going to be defined by change. So, the priority needs to be getting our people and our economy ready for that change, instead of sticking our heads in the sand.”

What exactly does the AFL propose?  Their 12 Point Plan includes initiatives around five themes: Support Alberta’s oil & gas industry; Diversify the economy; Invest in Infrastructure; Invest in people (by investing in public services, including expanding medicare, child care and free tuition, and expanding pension plans); and Protect Workers’ Rights.  With a very pragmatic orientation, the document has no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms:  “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards.” 

On the issue of the oil and gas industry, the Plan states:

We need to build new pipelines to access markets other than the U.S.

We need to incentivize and support oil and gas companies in their efforts to reduce emissions so we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent environmental standards.

Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.

On the issue of Infrastructure, the 12-Point Plan calls for:

procurement policies need to be revamped, for example, to use Community Benefit Agreements which emphasize the public interest by awarding contracts to companies that hire local, buy local and achieve thresholds related to environmental, social, and economic factors.

companies and contractors working on public infrastructure projects need to comply with labour standards, provide fair pay, and provide training for Albertans.

Research into communicating energy policies:   The Alberta Narrative Project  released a report,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta  in February,  documenting Albertan’s voices on issues of climate change, oil sands, politics, and more.  Some highlights are cited in  “Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The Alberta Narratives Project is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.  The Alberta Narratives Project, with lead partners The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust,  coordinated  75 community  organizations to host 55  facilitated “Narrative Workshops” around the province, engaging an unusually  broad spectrum of people: farmers, oil sands workers, energy leaders, business leaders, youth, environmentalists, New Canadians and others.

pembina energy alberta 2019Pembina Institute communications seem to reflect the goal of an inclusive, constructive tone. For example, their pre-election report,  Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta , released on March 8, makes recommendations regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency,  coal phase-out, methane regulation, and “legislating an emissions reduction target for Alberta that is consistent with ensuring Canada meets its international obligations under the Paris climate agreement.”  Also, Pricing Carbon Pollution in Alberta (March 8), which places carbon pricing in the history of the province since 2007, stresses the benefits, and makes recommendations relevant to the current political debate.

 

Federal government sets out new requirements for Infrastructure funds – climate lens, community benefits

The Investing in Canada Plan of the federal government will invest more than $180 billion over 12 years for public transit projects, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation, and Canada’s rural and northern communities. Two recent press releases define how the program funds will be awarded:  at the start of June , Infrastructure Canada announced that proposals under the Investing in Canada program, as well as the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund,  and those submitted to the Smart Cities Challenge,  will be required to use a “climate lens”, to assess “how their projects will contribute to or reduce carbon pollution, and to consider climate change risks in the location, design, and planned operation of a project.”  The General Guidance document for Climate Lens is here  .

second press release,  on June 22,  announced a new Community Employment Benefits requirement – under which applicants for major projects will be required to set targets for training and employment opportunities for at least three groups targeted by the CEB initiative: Indigenous peoples, women, persons with disabilities, veterans, youth, apprentices, and recent immigrants, as well as procurement opportunities for small-to-medium sized businesses and social enterprises.  The  General Guidance document for Community Enterprise Benefits   explains the administrative details.

Mowat report community benefits agreements Ontario became the first Canadian jurisdiction to promote community benefits, through the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act 2015 , and in May 2018, the province announced five new community benefits projects under its Long-term Infrastructure plan.

Engage and Empower , an April 2018 report from the Mowat Centre at University of Toronto,  discusses the Ontario Community Benefits framework, and sets out principles which are applicable outside Ontario.  It states: “it is essential to engage that community to understand the types of benefits that are most aligned with its priority needs, and to continue this engagement throughout the project as impacts are being measured and evaluated. This process of defining and engaging the community requires an ongoing relationship built on trust and collaboration … It is critical that governments avoid an overly prescriptive approach and recognize, instead, that communities are dynamic and robust ecosystems – with existing networks and capabilities – and desire autonomy in the process of defining, articulating and negotiating the benefits to accrue through an infrastructure project.”

 

ONTARIO’S NEW INFRASTRUCTURE LEGISLATION OPENS DOOR TO GOOD CONSTRUCTION CAREERS FOR YOUTH, IMMIGRANT, WOMEN, ABORIGINAL WORKERS THROUGH COMMUNITY BENEFITS AGREEMENTS

As part of its commitment to invest $130 billion in public infrastructure over 10 years , the Ontario government passed the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015 on June 4th.  The Act states: “Infrastructure planning and investment should minimize the impact of infrastructure on the environment and respect and help maintain ecological and biological diversity, and infrastructure should be designed to be resilient to the effects of climate change.” And “Infrastructure planning and investment should endeavour to make use of acceptable recycled aggregates.” Regarding the workforce, it requires: “Infrastructure planning and investment should promote community benefits …. to improve the well-being of a community affected by the project, such as local job creation and training opportunities”.  Steve Shallhorn, Executive Director of the Labour Education Centre and Chair of the Toronto Community Benefits Network  states, “This is a huge step forward” in a Globe and Mail article  (June 3 ) . The Toronto Network negotiated the Eglinton –Scarborough Crosstown Line Community Benefits Agreement with transit authority Metrolinx in 2013 . Their website provides “Definition of a CBA”  and “CBA’s Here and Elsewhere” , which highlights models from Vancouver, Los Angeles, and other programs in Toronto. Separately, the City of Toronto Council recently passed a motion  to consider inclusion of Community Benefits Agreements as part of the review of the city’s Social Procurement Policy for development and infrastructure projects, due at the end of 2015.