Fall Economic Statement paves the way for a Green Recovery: energy efficiency, care economy, electric vehicle infrastructure, and nature-based solutions

On November 30, Canada’s  Finance Minister Chrystia Freedland presented the government’s Fall Economic Statement to the House of Commons, Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19.  At over 200 pages, it is the fullest statement to date of how the government intends to finance a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but Canadians must still wait for a full  climate change strategy, promised “soon”.

The government press release summarizes the spending for health and economic measures, including, for employers, extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Canada, the  Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support , and new funding for the  tourism and hospitality sectors through the new Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program.  In Chapter 3, Building Back Better,  the Economic Statement addresses the impacts of Covid-19 on the labour market and employment. It includes promises to create one million jobs, invest in skills training, reduce inequality, attack systemic racism, support families through early learning and child care, support youth, and build a competitive green economy.  Most budget allocations will be channeled through existing programs, but new initiatives include “the creation of a task force of diverse experts to help develop “an Action Plan for Women in the Economy”;  launch of “Canada’s first-ever Black Entrepreneurship Program”;  and a task force on modernizing the Employment Equity Act to promote equity in federally-regulated workplaces.  Under the heading, “Better working conditions for the care Economy” comes a pledge: “To support personal support workers, homecare workers and essential workers involved in senior care, the government will work with labour and healthcare unions, among others, to seek solutions to improve retention, recruitment and retirement savings options for low- and modest-income workers, particularly those without existing workplace pension coverage.”

Climate change provisions and a Green Recovery:

Another section in Chapter 3 is entitled A Competitive, Green Economy, which  reiterates the government’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and reiterates the importance of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, currently before Parliament. Funding of  $2.6 billion over 7 years was announced to go towards grants of up to $5000 for homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes, and to recruit and train EnerGuide energy auditors. A further $150 million over 3 years was announced for charging and refuelling stations for zero-emissions vehicles, and  $25 million for “ predevelopment work for large-scale transmission projects. Building strategic interties will support Canada’s coal phase-out.

Under the heading of Nature-based solutions, proposed investments address the goal of 2 billion trees planted with a pledge of  $3.19 billion over 10 years, starting in 2021-22.  A further $631 million over 10 years is pledged for ecosystem restoration and wildlife protection, and $98.4 million over 10 years, starting in 2021-22, to establish a new “Natural Climate Solutions for Agriculture” Fund.

Reactions from unions, think tanks:

Among those reacting quickly to the Economic Statement, the Canadian Labour Congress  stated generally  “While today’s commitments on key priorities remain modest and reflect past promises, the government has signalled it will make further investments as the recovery begins to take shape.” Unifor issued two press releases, the first stating “This fiscal update shows that Canada’s workers are being heard, and must continue to advocate for the lasting changes required to secure a fair, resilient and inclusive economic recovery”, but a second complains “Canada’s fiscal update fails to support all airline workers .  The Canadian Union of Public Employees similarly issued two statements on December 1:  “Liberals’ economic update offers more delay and disappointment”  and “Canada’s flight attendants union disappointed by the federal economic update” .

Bruce Campbell reacted in The Conversation (Dec. 7)  that “The pace of government action to date does not align with the urgency of the twin climate and inequality crises. Nothing it has done so far is threatening to the corporate plutocracy and its hold on power.”   Several experts from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives contributed to a blog,  A fiscal update for hard times: Is it enough?”, with the answer from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood re the climate change provisions : “Planting trees, retrofitting buildings and increasing ZEV uptake doesn’t go far enough without a clear timeline for winding down oil and gas production.”  Climate Action Network-Canada agrees with Mertins-Kirkwood when it states: “ today’s update includes a summary of new and existing spending that we hope will provide an important foundation for Canada’s new national climate plan that we expect in the coming weeks.  ….As part of a larger package, along with Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and the pending new national climate plan, today’s fiscal update provides the backbone to guide Canada through some of the most important global transitions in generations.”

Other reactions:  “Feds’ fall economic statement shortchanges climate” (Corporate Knights, Dec. 2) quotes one observer who calls it  a “meek” effort, and offers a comparison of  the allocations in the Fall statement with earlier proposals from Corporate Knights  and the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in September . The Energy Mix also cites the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery in its analysis of  the energy efficiency provisions of the Economic Statement , stating, : “the  recommended by C$2.6 billion allocated for a seven-year program raises questions about how seriously the Trudeau government is prepared to confront the climate crisis. In mid-September, the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery called for a $26.9-billion program over five years.”

How to lead a workplace discussion on climate change

CUPE LOGOIn June, the National Environment program of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE/SCFP) shared online the materials for a workshop on How to lead a workplace discussion on Climate Change .  The materials consist of a 28-slide PowerPoint presentation, Speaking notes and Tips for facilitators, in English and French versions.   It provides labour-focused information and interactive discussion tools on “how climate change is affecting our planet, our communities and our economy”, and although the content is specific to CUPE – presenting examples from CUPE jobs and CUPE  policy statements, it offers an excellent model for other unions.

CUPE has a long history of climate change related educational materials, including: Healthy, Clean & GREEN: A Workers’ Action Guide to a Greener Workplace (2015),     which encourages workplace behaviours such as waste reduction, environmental committees and environmental audits; How to form a workplace environment Committee ;  and  an online, interactive Eco-audit tool  to workers score their workplace behaviours related to energy conservation, recycling, water use, cleaning products, transportation, and workplace meetings. A very early document was the CUPE Green Bargaining Guide , published in 2008 and which provided examples of collective agreement language on many issues, including conservation, commuting, and establishing an environment committee .  Most of these examples have also been incorporated in the ACW Green Collective Agreements database, here.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE/SCFP) is Canada’s largest union, with over 650,000 members in every province, representing workers in health care, emergency services, education, early learning and child care, municipalities, social services, libraries, utilities, transportation, airlines and more.   All CUPE materials are available in English or French.

CUPE Provides a New Guide for Greener Workplaces

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, in advance of Earth Day in April 2015, has released Healthy Clean and Green: A Worker’s Action Guide to a Greener Workplace. CUPE answers the basic question, “Is climate change a union issue?” and then focuses on workplace actions and solutions, with examples and tips to improve energy efficiency, recycling and reduction of resources, worker education, and workplace environment committees. The book also describes the LEED features of the CUPE National Headquarters in Ottawa. To further encourage greening activities, the union announced the 2015 CUPE Green Workplace Contest, with a deadline of May 2015.