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Federal government silent on Trudeau’s promised Just Transition Act

We’ve been working with 5000+ people across the country and 27 MPs across the political spectrum to push for a Just Transition Act. On January 31st, 2022, the federal government gave this response to our petition – a response that doesn’t even mention legislation. Now is the time to recommit to our organizing to win a just transition.

Council of Canadians supporters from across the country have been bringing petitions to their MPs for months, calling for just transition legislation that supports people and communities in the move towards decarbonization. So far, 10 MPs from across the political spectrum have tabled our just transition petition in Parliament, and 17 others have committed to doing the same.

This week, we received the government’s first official response to our petition. In it, the Ministers listed several promises and programs are already in the works – things like emissions reductions targets, climate policies, and workforce development programs.

Importantly, the response omitted any mention of the Just Transition Act that the Trudeau government promised almost three years ago. Instead, it offered a patchwork of policies that are no match for the scale of the crisis we’re facing.

We need transformative legislation, not a patchwork of weak policies

When Prime Minister Trudeau issued ministerial mandate letters in December 2021, he tasked Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson and Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan with “moving forward with legislation and comprehensive action to achieve a Just Transition, ensuring support for communities to create more economic opportunities for workers and families into the future and in all regions of the country.” This mandate was consistent with Trudeau’s previous promises to implement a Just Transition Act. But now, with this response to a petition in which thousands of people are explicitly asking for that legislation, the ministers are mum on the topic.

The best research available tells us that to truly move towards decarbonization and to develop systems that support people through that transition, we need to act proactively, and we need strong legislation to guide the process.

We need a coordinated and comprehensive approach to addressing the climate emergency that puts people and communities at the centre of decision-making. Instead, the federal government is delivering a patchwork of policies that aren’t delivering the change we need, leaving regular people like us behind.

The petition response also fails to address some specific demands within our call for just transition legislation: winding down fossil fuels; investing in energy-efficient public housing and transit; financing the transition through public institutions; creating new economic institutions to drive the transition; and defending human rights and Indigenous rights in the process. These are the elements of a transition that is truly centred around justice.

Instead, the government’s response to our petition praises market mechanisms like carbon pricing and corporate net-zero promises to address the climate crisis. There is a lot of evidence to show that these approaches do not work to stop fossil fuel production. For example, Corporate Knights recently revealed that Suncor has paid barely 16% of the carbon tax they should have paid, due to a series of provincial and federal breaks. Oil Change International has shown that corporate net-zero promises don’t actually stop fossil fuel corporations from expanding their extraction operations.

These corporate-backed mechanisms cannot be posed as “solutions” when they not only fail to reduce emissions but are actively harming people and the planet. While our communities suffer, Big Oil CEOs continue to rake in millions of dollars each year, thanks to government decisions to support “climate policy” that is inept at stopping the growth of emissions or corporate power.

No new commitments in government response

The response to our petition was written by three cabinet Ministers: Minister of Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson; Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault; and Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Disability Inclusion, Irek Kusmierczyk.

There is little in the response that’s new. It names a few programs, policies, and promises the government has already committed to for addressing the climate crisis, including the Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy strategy, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, and Canada’s commitment to end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.

Our petition specifically asks for an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, not just the ones that the government deems “inefficient.” This petition response says the government has already phased out eight fossil fuel subsidies and will eliminate the rest by 2023, but research by Environment Defense shows that the federal government gave $18 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel companies in Canada in 2020. And this isn’t a one-off donation due to the pandemic – there is a pattern of extreme subsidization over many years.

The Ministers’ response also praises fossil fuel corporations’ commitments to net-zero emissions as a step toward decarbonization. But research from Oil Change International shows that industry commitments to net-zero generally do not include consideration of the emissions that occur from burning the fossil fuels that these companies extract. Forbes Magazine calls Big Oil’s commitments to net-zero by 2050 pure greenwashing to stall a just transition.

The petition response also says that the government plans to phase out thermal coal exports by 2030, but that is far too late. Climate justice advocates, including the Council of Canadians, are urging the government to move up that timeline significantly and end thermal coal exports by 2023.

The response also names two existing workforce development programs, the Community Workforce Development Program and Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program, both launched in 2021. It also says the federal government is “committed to launching a Clean Jobs Training Center,” but doesn’t give a timeline or funding amount to support that centre.

These existing programs and policies are not enough to tackle the crises our communities are facing, and they do not add up to the comprehensive and cohesive just transition plan that we urgently need.

We can’t let corporate interests win

We’ve seen this tactic from Liberal governments before: campaigning on a set of promises to appease progressive voters, then endlessly delaying any meaningful action and bending to corporate interests instead.

This tilt toward corporate interests has real impacts on our communities. The oil lobby has been stymying climate action for decades. They helped shape omnibus legislation introduced by Harper that gutted environmental and water legislation in Canada, and they lobbied for major industry bailouts throughout the pandemic.

In recent years, Canada’s top oil and gas lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, has also manufactured and funded groups that masquerade as “grassroots advocacy” to push for further oil and gas expansion and stall meaningful action on the climate crisis.

To combat the outsized influence of Big Oil and their lobbyists, we need to push even harder.

We cannot let Prime Minister Trudeau and his government back away from their promise to deliver just transition legislation. We cannot allow the government to hand sweetheart deals to the very corporations that are poisoning communities and torching the planet.

Why a just transition?

Our demand is simple: we can’t afford any more delays. We need just transition legislation that drastically reduces our emissions, ends all fossil fuel subsidies, and winds down the fossil fuel industry and all related infrastructure, while providing generous supports to all impacted workers and communities, creating good green jobs, and expanding public economic institutions to implement the transition. (Read the full text of our petition here.)

We’ve made just transition legislation a priority because we can see the writing on the wall: the shift away from fossil fuels has already begun. Over the last decade, at least 53,000 oil and gas workers in Canada have lost their jobs. And some estimates suggest that as many as 450,000 people in the sector could be displaced by 2050.

Without a transition plan in place, Canada is hurtling towards disastrous consequences for workers and communities that currently rely on the oil and gas sector for jobs and livelihoods. We urgently need a just transition that gives them a soft landing as we evolve and transform our economy towards a more sustainable future. Recent polls in Canada show that a majority of people are ready for this shift.

Just transition legislation also provides a historic opportunity to tackle the interlocking crises of our time: climate change, colonialism, racism, and socio-economic inequality.

Despite the growing calls for a just transition from experts and communities, the government has been stalling. Prime Minister Trudeau promised back in 2019 to introduce a Just Transition Act but he has yet to deliver on that promise.

Everything our communities have – universal health care, public transit, public education, employment standards, and the climate policy we do have – people fought to win together. This moment in time calls us to work together to plan a truly just transition away from fossil fuels.

To do that, we have to continue organizing ourselves and our communities. Here are a few ways to join in, right now: