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Will the federal “sustainable jobs plan” mean a just transition?

What to know

  • There are several promising things in the plan for workers, communities, and the climate in the Sustainable Jobs Plan, but there are also notable absences and loopholes that will benefit fossil fuel companies.
  • It outlines supports for workers, including “fair income, job security, social protection, and social dialogue.”
  • But it’s missing new public economic institutions and is too reliant on the private sector for solutions.
  • It also relies too much on false solutions like carbon capture and storage and doesn’t provide enough accountability mechanisms to ensure the plan stays on track.
  • A just transition is not a destination, it’s a process. While this is a step in the right direction, we must continue to fight to win.

OVERVIEW

The federal government has released its interim “Sustainable Jobs Plan” – aka its preliminary just transition strategy. Included below is our initial take on what’s good, bad, and not good enough in this announcement.

There are several promising things in the plan for workers, communities, and the climate.
This includes a just transition institution and an independent advisory body, as well as commitment to International Labour Organization (ILO) and United Declaration of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) principles.

However, there are several gaps and loopholes big enough for fossil fuel CEOs to build several pipelines through. Big Oil CEOs have clearly lobbied effectively to water down urgently needed action for workers, communities, and the climate. Now is the time to push our Members of Parliament to significantly strengthen this plan.

The Sustainable Jobs Plan needs binding legislation that is backed by funding in the federal budget, that supports a just transition for workers and communities, not just another bailout for fossil fuel CEOs.

The just transition legislation to implement the plan will also need to address regional and sectoral mechanisms to ensure major sources of emissions like food production and transportation, housing, and transit are included in job creating transition plans. Meanwhile, it’s been nearly four years since this government promised just transition legislation and we’re still waiting.

THE GOOD-ISH

The Sustainable Jobs Plan addresses many of the key things the Council of Canadians has been calling for in our Flood Parliament campaign, including: creating good green jobs to support workers and communities; protecting worker rights, Indigenous rights, human rights, and migrant justice through the transition; expanding the social safety net; addressing inequality and inequities; and driving inclusive workforce development.

As Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes, “There’s a welcome focus on (re)training, social support, job creation, worker [and] Indigenous rights [and] coordinating institutions and overarching industrial strategy.” He points out that “Indigenous-led climate solutions is a win-win for reconciliation and decarbonization,” including the commitment to free, prior and informed consent.

Supports for workers: This includes “fair income, job security, social protection, and social dialogue,” the “need to ensure appropriate training and supports are available,” developing a plan for EI to play a role in transition income supports, and drawing on the recommendations from the 2019 Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities.

Social dialogue: The proposed Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council would formalize social dialogue, a key demand from the ILO to ensure participation of workers and communities in decision-making about just transition at every stage of the process.

Data-driven transition: The plan to improve labour market data collection will help with a range of sectors, above and beyond the fossil fuel sector.

THE BAD

The Council of Canadians has a number of things we know need to be included in just transition legislation. A number of these key items are missing from this jobs plan, and several are problematic. It remains to be seen whether these gaps and loopholes will be addressed in the forthcoming legislation. The government has yet to confirm specifically when it will table the long-promised legislation.

Emissions cuts are far too low: The plan touts the feds’ “leadership role” in the world adopting the Paris Agreement, but this plan sticks to the emissions reductions plan of 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, which is far lower than Canada’s fair share of at least 60 per cent.

Absence of new public economic institutions: As Mertins-Kirkwood notes, the plan is missing a “stronger public-led industrial strategy with an explicit decarbonization focus, without depending so much on the goodwill of private investors.”

Loopholes and lacklustre accountability: The plan only commits to reporting on progress every five years, with the initial progress report not occurring until 2025. This is not nearly frequent enough given the need to ensure Canada meets its 2030 climate obligations. When the pandemic started the prime minister was doing press briefings every day. That is the kind of urgent and up to date information/accountability the climate crisis requires.

Relies too much on the private sector: Doubles down on the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) and infrastructure Public-Private Partnerships (P3s). As we’ve written before, privatization is a climate and job killer. Including it in this plan is a big loophole.

Relies too much on false solutions: In addition to privatization, the plan relies on false solutions like Small Modular Reactors, which are too expensive and too slow to get up and running to be an effective climate solution; and carbon capture, utilization, and storage, an unproven technology that emits more than it captures.

THE NOT GOOD ENOUGH

Sectors and regions: “This work is being done with both a sectoral and a regional focus,” including renewables, green buildings, public transportation. While promising, the federal government needs to get much clearer on what the plans and decision-making processes look like for each of these sectors and how to ensure provincial and territorial buy-in. The Climate Emergency Unit’s proposal for a just transition transfer should be part of these regional plans.

Governance, reporting, accountability, and funding: There’s a Sustainable Jobs Secretariat, which is a good step, but a full-fledged Ministry of Just Transition is needed. The strategy is full of funding re-announcements and relies too much on buy-in from provinces and private sector. The federal government needs to spend what it takes to win.

HOW DO WE GET FROM HERE TO A JUST TRANSITION?

The legislation to implement a just transition is expected in the coming months. Whether that legislation addresses the gaps and loopholes in the sustainable jobs strategy is up to us.

Thousands of people from hundreds of communities have taken part in the Council of Canadians’ campaign to flood Parliament with support for a just transition. As a result, so far 35 Green, NDP, Liberal, and Conservative MPs tabled the Council of Canadians’ petition for transition legislation that’s truly just and another 13 have pledged to do so.

Because of all of that organizing and the hard work of labour, Indigenous, migrant justice, environmental, and other allied groups, the federal plan so far is much stronger than it would have been.

Now’s the time to redouble our efforts. We need to contact our MPs and demand they ensure that the forthcoming legislation implements a just transition, not just profiteering by Big Oil CEOs.

LEARN MORE AND TAKE ACTION

Download the new Flood Parliament organizing toolkit: You can use this workbook to help you team up with others in your community to get your MP to table our just transition petition and speak up for transition legislation that’s truly just.

Read and download our just transition backgrounder: This outlines in more depth what our just transition petition is calling for and can be used as a briefing note to share with your Member of Parliament.

Dylan Penner

Dylan Penner

Dylan Penner is a Campaigner at the Council of Canadians


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