Finally, a roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act

In 2019 at COP25, Canada’s federal politicians pledged to enact a Just Transition Act , and even included the promise in the Liberal election platform.  Yet the December 2020 federal climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, makes little mention of Just Transition, and the absence of follow-through has not gone unnoticed – for example, in a January 2021 article in the Toronto Star which asks: “The Liberals promised help for oil workers as their jobs disappear. So where is it?

On April 1, a new report,  Roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act:  A path to a clean and inclusive economy advances the issue by offering a framework and costed proposals for essential provisions.  The Roadmap is built on an overview of the international research and best practices, and makes proposals which are meant to be comprehensive and ambitious, and commensurate with the scale of the problem- costed as “in the order of $16.5 billion per year (declining over the lifetime of the transition).”

The Roadmap proposes the following components for a Just Transition Act for Canada:

• Enshrine fundamental just transition principles, rights and definitions; • Establish a Just Transition Commission to oversee and guide the government’s transition agenda; • Establish a Just Transition Benefit to support workers in affected communities; • Establish an Economic Diversification Crown Corporation to invest in job-creating projects in affected communities; • Establish a Just Transition Training Fund that ensures access for historically marginalized groups to employment in the lower-carbon economy; and, • Establish a new federal-provincial/territorial Just Transition Transfer to deliver funding for these new social programs.

The role of the Just Transition Commission is central, coordinating the activities that will be administered through federal departments, encompassing the entire Canadian economy and workforce. The commission should represent and engage with “a wide variety of stakeholders, including labour unions, civil society groups, Indigenous peoples, business associations, independent experts, and public servants from governments of all levels.  …..It should lead the development of regionally specific roadmaps for Canada’s transition away from fossil fuels—plans that map out a timeline for the wind down of fossil fuel production and the scaling up of alternative industries for affected provinces and communities. It should propose and monitor policies related to decarbonization and workforce transition to ensure the principles of a just transition are respected at all stages of implementation. The commission should play a role in developing skills inventories and recommending investments in training for affected regions and workers. It should also work with employers and workers to facilitate job shifting and job bridging to avoid layoffs wherever possible.”

Regarding a Just Transition Benefit for individuals, the authors state:  “Unlike some existing transition supports, eligibility for this benefit should not be conditional on direct employment in an emissions-intensive industry. Instead, anyone suffering a significant drop in income due to the wind down of fossil fuel production in a qualifying region should be able to claim it. The benefit should be available, for as long as necessary, to help displaced workers to seek re-training and/or re-employment.”

Regarding proactive economic diversification, the report notes that “the amount spent by Canadian governments on economic diversification in the context of decarbonization is woefully inadequate” and calls for the creation of  a new federal Economic Diversification Crown Corporation, distinct from the existing Western Economic Diversification Fund or the Canada Infrastructure Bank. It would play “a crucial and distinct role in accelerating economic diversification away from fossil fuels through direct public ownership of new infrastructure …At least initially, new public investments in economic diversification must be on the scale of the industries being phased out—in the order of $15 billion per year at first and declining as the transition unfolds.”

Regarding training, the report calls for the legislation to “create a Just Transition Training Fund that has the explicit purpose of training new workers from historically marginalized groups for good, green jobs in a lower-carbon economy. Offering preferential support to certain groups, including women, Indigenous peoples, disabled people and people from racialized communities, is consistent with the principle of employment equity and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”  The report calls for “ a significant portion of the Just Transition Training Fund should be allocated directly to expand training infrastructure, including through public colleges, labour union training centres and on job sites across the country.”

Roadmap to a Canadian Just Transition Act:  A path to a clean and inclusive economy was written by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Clay Duncliffe, and co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) Research program . Mertins Kirkwood summarizes the contents in an Opinion piece in the National Observer .

Canadian government commits to a Just Transition Act, but COP25 deemed a failure

COP25 entranceThe 25th gathering of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP25) took place from December 2 to 15 in Madrid, and despite official UN press releases and statements (curated by IIDS here ),  a general feeling of frustration was present almost immediately. Early on, Greta Thunberg labelled the meetings “clever accounting and creative PR” in her speech to delegates  . Demonstrations and discontent by youth, Indigenous, and other civil society activists  on December 11 are described by Common Dreams ;  an article in The Guardian newspaper  describes the “unfortunate  security incident” on December 11 when civil society demonstrators were expelled by COP security guards. The article quotes #FridaysForFuture member Angela Valenzuela, who stated that the rough treatment was typical of  the treatment of women, Indigenous people, and workers in a COP process dominated by government officials and corporate cop25 reject teckvested interests. “The doors closed in our faces were a very powerful metaphor for what is happening here and what has happened for the last 25 years”.  Reinforcing this theme, Common Dreams highlights new research  by Corporate Accountability,  The Big Polluters Bankrolling COP25, which names the corporations sponsoring and lobbying COP25 and concludes: “Enough is enough — we cannot let corporations use the climate talks as a marketing campaign to greenwash without accountability.”

In the end, after the longest sessions in COP’s long history, the final result achieved nothing regarding the main purpose: international carbon markets and greater ambition for national emissions reductions targets.  The Canadian government official press release casts a positive light on the results, and general reaction and summary appears in The Guardian in  “The UN climate talks are over for another year – was anything achieved?”.  Good COP Bad COP   by Kate Aronoff and David Adler was published by Data for Progress on December 11, with a detailed summary of the proceedings from a U.S. point of view.  Inside Climate News explains the carbon markets discussion in  UN Climate Talks Stymied by Carbon Markets’ ‘Ghost from the Past’ .

Canadian headlines reflect strong disappointment: 

Even mainstream Toronto Globe and Mail states: “Madrid climate talks end in near failure as crucial decisions are bumped into 2020” (Dec. 15). In The National Observer  Chris Hatch and Barry Saxifrage ask  “Global climate summit. COP or Cop-out?” on Dec. 12 , followed by  “UN climate negotiations end in ‘demoralizing, enraging’ failure” on Dec. 15.   In The Energy Mix:  “U.S. Declared ‘Climate Criminal’ as ‘Stalemated’ COP 25 Limps to a Close” (Dec. 13) and  “Disgraceful COP 25 Shows Big Emitters ‘Betraying People Across the World’ in The Energy Mix (Dec. 16).

Climate Action Network Canada compiled  statements from some of its member organizations on December 15 under this headline: “COP25 derailed as polluters prioritized over people and planet” . Among the statements:

from Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada : On every issue of significance, COP25 has delivered a mediocre or non -outcome that betrays the millions of people around the world calling for real climate action. While Canadian negotiators were largely constructive on the ground, Canada has a lot of work to do at home to address the gap between its climate goals and its ongoing commitment to expand the fossil fuel industry, which got a lot of international attention here in Madrid. Minister Wilkinson must increase Canada’s climate finance contributions and deliver on his government’s election promise to bring a new, more ambitious Paris pledge to COP26 in 2020.”

Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager, Environmental Defence Canada
“It wasn’t just that the COP25 outcome was a disaster. It was also demoralizing and enraging to see countries erase human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, not only in the text but in reality, and erode the environmental integrity of the Paris Agreement. It will be up to people in Canada and around the world to continue to mobilize and push governments to take real climate action.”

 Denis Bolduc, secretary general of the FTQ (Quebec Federation of Workers)
“We see once again the lack of ambition of States to respond to the climate emergency. The Quebec Federation of Workers (FTQ) demands that the voices of billions of people be heard. …. We demand a robust framework in which the Just Transition can take place. Workers and their communities must be at the heart of the solutions. Only a social dialogue where everyone has an equal voice will allow us to get out of this crisis. Although the states failed to answer the call, the FTQ joins all the groups of civil society to implement a real energy transition. What we want is a Just Transition and there will be no Just Transition without the workers.”

Julee Sanderson, 1st National Vice-President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
“… Stuck in the past and unwilling to act on ambitions, governments that have aligned themselves with industry and capital have shown once again how simple it is to sidestep responsibility. In the face of all humanity and on a global stage it appears marching orders have come from the petroleum industry lobbyists rather than the millions watching from around the globe. Governments have managed to commit only to infinite growth and colonialism models. It is evident the message of civil society, its workers, its youth, its scientists, human rights groups, and Indigenous land, water, and air protectors have been inconvenient afterthoughts. Civil society must redouble its efforts on the front lines. There can be no ambition without human rights and a sustainable just transition for everyone.”

Labour achieves public promise of a Just Transition Act from  Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change 

cop25 just transitionThe Canadian Labour Congress Twitter feed  has been active in posting –  especially December 11 events regarding the Workshop on Just Transition. Sharing the stage with CLC’s Tara Peel, Canada’s New Minister of Environment and Climate Change publicly committed to the election promise of federal legislation: a Just Transition Act at that event.

CLC Twitter feed also highlights the Powering Past Coal Just Transition Task Force, launched in July 2019 with these Terms of Reference  . This is an international group, unrelated to the Government of Canada’s Just Transition Task Force which has already reported. Members include academics, including Linda Clarke, (ProBE, University of Westminster and Co-Director, ACW) and Lori Thorlakson (University of Alberta)  as well as unionists, including Hassan Yussuff, (president of the Canadian Labour Congress), Samantha Smith ( ITUC Just Transition Centre), Bill Adams ( Trades Union Congress), Suzanne Jeffreys (One Million Climate Jobs/Campaign against Climate Change).

During COP25, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) released a new series of three Backgrounders with the theme:  We must all be part of the solution on climate change  .  The series consists of: Governments must take ActionThe Public Sector will be Part of the Solution , and The National Union will be Part of the Solution , the union’s commitment for its own action, as presented at the 2019 Triennial NUPGE Convention in June 2019.

ituc logoInternationally, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) maintained a COP25 blog .  Going into the meetings, the ITUC Topline Demands for COP25 were published as a  Frontline Briefing. They consist of “1. Greater ambition for Just Transition, with greater ambition in the new government climate plans, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that are due in 2020;  2. Governments must sign on to the “Climate Action and Jobs Initiative”   launched at the September 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019; 3. Commit to financing for the most vulnerable: governments must live up to their promise to mobilise US $100 billion annually by 2020.”

From the ITUC Frontline Briefing:

“Our message for all country leaders: we have just 10 years. Talking is no longer enough – ambition and Just Transition plans are urgent to secure the trust of people in every nation. • Stop the delaying measures, increase ambition in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) • Start implementing the social dialogue vital for agreements that deliver Just Transition for all. • Legislate for climate action including procurement rules. • Green New Deals must mean a new social contract in every country with labour rights, climate ambition and Just Transition at the core.”