Canadians favour a shift away from oil and gas, 68% support federal help for worker transition

abacus 2019 just transitionAn online survey  was conducted by Abacus Data in mid- December 2019 to gauge opinion about an energy transition and compare attitudes in Alberta with those in the rest of Canada. The summary was posted to the Abacus website on January 3 and to Clean Energy Canada, which commissioned the survey, here .  Based on responses from a random sample of 1,848 adults,  a majority of Canadians and Albertans recognize that energy transition is a global issue and a necessary development, although in Alberta, only 49% see it as beneficial for the province in the long-term.

Further insights:  

72% across Canada, and 60% in Alberta would prefer to see Alberta’s economy shift over time because “global demand will change and Alberta will be left behind if the province is more dependent on oil.”

40% of Albertans want their Premier to “reject the idea of an energy shift and promote growth in Alberta’s oil sector.”  (Nationally, only 32% support promoting Alberta’s oil sector).

57%  of Albertans said an energy transition should be done more slowly or not at all, and 45% see it as intended to punish Alberta’s workers.

Nationally, 68% of respondents support federal government help for Alberta’s workers seeking new opportunities.  In Alberta, only 49% support such federal help for transitioning workers, while 51% want the federal government to help grow the province’s oil sector.

$50 million Forestry Transition Fund to retrain and support workers following closure of Nova Scotia’s polluting Northern Pulp plant – Updated

This blog has been updated on January 10 to reflect the company announcement that a new environmental assessment process may yet keep the mill alive. It also expands on Unifor’s position in supporting the mill and the opposition by environmental groups and First Nations. 

After years of controversy, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced on December 20 that the province will enforce a January 31 2020 deadline for B.C.-owned Northern Pulp plant to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour, near Pictou Landing First Nation.  The deadline had been set by legislation in 2015, and will not be extended, despite the company’s threat to shut down the mill.  Acknowledging the job loss and economic hardship which will result from the decision, the Premier’s announcement  included a $50-million transition fund for forestry sector workers and businesses “to support displaced workers across the province, small contractors and all those whose livelihoods will be affected. The transition fund will be used for retraining and education, and for emergency funding to help those in immediate need.” On January 3, the Premier’s Office announced the composition of the Forestry Transition Team. A previous announcement had designated the provincial deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade as the team lead; members announced on January 3 include more government representatives as well as industry management – noticeably absent, any worker representation.

After the first meeting of the Forestry Transition Team,CBC reports that the government has  fired an industry member. The Premier has announced  $7 million to assist silviculture and forest road building operations  in the central and western regions of the province .  The January 10 article in the National Observer also states that the Premier  is working to ensure the stability and accessibility  of the mill’s pension plan .

Company enters new environmental assessment process which may yet keep the mill alive

On  January 10 , an article in the National Observer   reported on a statement by Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill:   … “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.” Plant closure has been at least temporarily averted as the company has informed the government that it will continue the environmental assessment process for its proposed effluent treatment plant.  In response,  the Nova Scotia Environment Ministry released draft Terms of Reference for that assessment on January 8, giving the public and government reviewers 30 days to comment on the draft.  Following a period for company response, the terms of reference will be provided  by early April, and the company will be given another two years to complete the environmental assessment report.  The government  webpage dedicated to the environmental assessment is here , providing the new draft terms of reference, how to make a submission, and an archive of past documentation in this long-running project.

Opposing viewpoints in a long controversy

The Halifax Chronicle Herald has published many articles describing the long history and competing interests in this dispute, for example in a Timeline of the dispute ; “Nova Scotia sticks to Boat Harbour deadline; Northern Pulp confirms shutdown”;  and “Northern Pulp mill will close without extension to Boat Harbour Act, company says” (Dec. 19).

Unifor, which represents 230 workers at Northern Pulp in Local 444 , has maintained an  ongoing  Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign , described in  WCR’s separate blog postAfter the government’s December 20 announcement, the union issued a press release, “Premier McNeil throws away 2,700 rural jobs in Nova Scotia” . Another press release on  January 3  is more detailed, reporting to members on subsequent interactions with government, and stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

boat harbour rallyIn contast to Unifor’s support for the company’s proposal for an alternate effluent treatment plant, which was rejected in a provincial environmental assessment on December 17, it had been  widely opposed – by the Pictou Landing First Nation, as well as fishermen’s associations from all three Maritime provinces , tourism operators, cottagers, boaters and others whose livelihoods would be affected by the proposed dumping of treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Environmental advocacy and First Nations groups also oppose the mill. “Northern Pulp decision validates rights, First Nations lawyer says”  summarizes the position of the Pictou Landing First Nations and praises the Premier’s courage in “righting an injustice spanning five decades.”  And while acknowledging the hardship ahead for forestry workers, the Ecology Action Centre of Nova Scotia calls the decision “courageous” and “forward-thinking”, saying : “For the first time in Nova Scotia’s history, a government has said no to a pulp mill’s coercive demands in defence of environmental protection, Indigenous rights and human health. It is a watershed moment — a turn away from the old ways of allowing mass extraction and the pollution of the air, land and water. This decision could mark the start of a new, cleaner future and a livable planet for our descendants.”

Historic European Green New Deal includes funding for a Just Transition Mechanism

ursala eu green new dealNew European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the European Green Deal on December 11 (here on YouTube ), calling it “Europe’s man on the moon moment”.    The 10  key points are outlined here , with the flagship commitment that the EU will aim to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a goal that will be enshrined in a ‘Climate Law’ to be presented in March 2020.  To achieve net-zero, EU’s ambitions must rise to a 50-55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, replacing the current 40% objective.

In “Europe’s Green New Deal“,   Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University writes for Project Syndicate that it “ is the first comprehensive plan to achieve sustainable development in any major world region. As such, it becomes a global benchmark – a “how-to” guide for planning  the transformation to a prosperous, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable economy.”  Clean Energy Wire compiles reaction from German politicians, NGO’s and think tanks: reactions are mixed – like Sachs, most commend the symbolic and political achievement of the EU statement, while tempering their enthusiasm with concerns for implementation details.  An article in The Guardian also summarizes the deal with some sense of the opposition and difficulties ahead.

The Euractiv summary  quotes EU Commissioner von der Leyen  on the proposal for a Just Transition Mechanism:  “We have the ambition to mobilise €100 billion precisely targeted to the most vulnerable regions and sectors”  and describes the initiative as having  three “legs”: 1. A just transition fund that will mobilise resources from the EU’s regional policy budget; 2. An  “InvestEU” programme, with money coming from the European Investment Bank (EIB); and 3.  EIB funding coming from the EU bank’s own capital.  The EU Commission website provides Details of the Just Transition Mechanism for download.

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.”

How to communicate “Just Transition” to union members and communities

Climate Outreach, a U.K.-based organization of  social scientists and communication specialists, has published new research, summarized in the handbook for a general audience, How to Have Conversations about Climate Change, released on December 5.  An earlier handbook released in September was aimed at NGO’s, policymakers and academics who seek to communicate better about Just Transition. Broadening engagement with Just Transition: Opportunities and Challenges is an 18-page handbook with practical recommendations for the language and imagery which reaches people across the political and economic spectrum – with very specific attention to union members. It is based from experience since 2010, including 55 workshops in Alberta in 2017 (7 of which were with oil workers), and interviews with UK union leaders about just transition in 2019. The full reports concerning the Alberta Narratives project is here.

Recommendations from Broadening engagement with Just Transition include:

…..The idea of just transition prompts negative reactions amongst some union representatives, who see it as a conversation about job losses, with little realistic chance of recompense.

…. In previous testing, the imagery and language of ‘justice’ has not resonated well across the political spectrum with centre-right audiences, suggesting that ‘just transition’ may prompt the same response. The subtly different framing of ‘fairness’ may work better with people who hold these values. Fairness is about doing right by everyone involved; justice, by contrast, may imply wrongdoing in the past that must be atoned for.

…People’s sense of identity is often closely bound up with the work they do. Extractive industries like coal mining are often, for example, closely associated with pride and a strong sense of place. Demonstrating gratitude and respect for the contribution of fossil fuels can create a strong basis for mutual discussion in the future – with renewables and natural resources as an extension of that pride.

….When people feel criticised and devalued, they are much less likely to engage. Approaching a conversation without a sense of blame is an important part of a productive dialogue.

….Many communities are turned off by the imagery and stereotypes associated with environmentalism, and will speak more openly with trusted members of their own community. In successful communications, trust between all parties is essential.

A good Canadian example of some of these principles  recently appeared on the CBC website in the form of  an OpEd by Rylan Higgins, now a professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, but formerly an oil worker.  He writes about his experiences in the oil fields in   “‘It’s pretty brutal, pretty unforgiving’: Why the West should move beyond an oilpatch economy” (Nov. 15), and  argues that the fossil industry has “long been one based on inequality, bootstrap individualism, and high-octane opportunism.” Importantly, he urges those working to transition Canada into the green economy “to consider the workers and families in the industry as we do so.” He adds that “the next economic arrangement should put workers [to whom he “tips his hard hat”], families, and the environment first—and investors and corporate bigwigs last.”