Natural Resources Canada is currently hosting its Just Transition consultation, which has involved receiving feedback and input from interested parties from across Canada to inform the development of upcoming Just Transition legislation.
For its part, the Green Economy Network has sent feedback outlining some key aspects we would like to see in the government’s approach to this crucial issue. Below is an abridged version of GEN’s statement:
Members of the Green Economy Network have long been advocates of a Just Transition Act to support workers during the much-needed transition away from carbon-intensive sectors and towards a climate friendly economy. It is for this reason that we have been pleased to see the federal government conduct public consultations on this crucial issue.
We believe that a just transition to a green economy isn’t just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions: it’s also about creating decent jobs, making sure no worker or community is left behind, and reducing poverty and inequality.
Canada and the United States are the only G7 countries that have not reduced carbon emissions since signing the 2016 Paris Agreement, and Canada’s emissions have shown the greatest increase during this period. Without enforceable, sector-specific benchmarks and timelines, it is unlikely Canada will reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Such bold action also needs to ensure that workers and communities currently reliant on carbon-intensive sectors will be guaranteed prosperity in the green economy of the future.
Moreover, market mechanisms alone will not adequately address the need to transition away from fossil fuels while ensuring that affected workers and communities can thrive. Government must play a role in phasing out industries while creating economic prosperity for all affected parties. However, it cannot merely “identify” and “support” inclusive economic opportunities: it must play a direct role in making these opportunities through public job creation.
By enhancing the government’s current approach to this issue through the passing of Just Transition legislation, we can ensure this vision becomes reality.
People-centred Just Transition Principles
Natural Resources Canada has outlined four guiding principles that could guide Canada’s just transition legislation: informed and ongoing dialogue with relevant stakeholders, policies and programs to create high value work in line with regional circumstances, inclusivity, and international cooperation.
These principles provide a potentially strong foundation for adequate just transition legislation in Canada. However, these could be improved by expanding them to include the following elements: recognition of rights and an expansion of the social safety net.
Centring rights recognition would ensure that labour rights, Indigenous rights, and human rights more generally are respected and upheld throughout the transition to a green economy. It would also strengthen the government’s commitment to inclusive workforce development and informed dialogue.
By upholding labour rights, which include employment standards and collective bargaining, the government will ensure that it is facilitating the creation of good jobs in the move away from carbon-intensive work. By upholding Indigenous rights, which include self-determination and free, prior and informed consent, the government would ensure that Indigenous peoples and communities will be given the power to determine their own path forward to a green future.
Expanding the social safety net would help make sure no worker is left behind during the transition. While the government has begun implementing job retraining and career support programs, it should also provide direct compensation and pension-bridging for affected workers. These additional provisions would minimize potential harms to workers and communities caused by the transition.
Compensation could be provided through a Just Transition Benefit that provides income support for anyone experiencing a loss of income due to the wind down of emissions-intensive production, regardless as to whether or not they are directly employed by these sectors. While the design of this program would ideally be shaped by the Just Transition Advisory Board in collaboration with federal and provincial governments, the $2,000 per month Canadian Emergency Response Benefit introduced by the federal government in 2020 provides a convincing model for a basic income program.
Just Transition Advisory Board
Natural Resources Canada has also proposed a Just Transition advisory board to assist in planning and implementing the transition.
The advisory board should centre the voices of impacted workers, labour unions, civil society groups, Indigenous people, independent experts, and members of the public sector.
Unlike the previous federal Just Transition Task Force, the advisory body should not be limited to particular regions or industries. Rather, it should have a mandate that is inclusive of the entire Canadian economy, although it should be primarily focused on strategizing and allocating investment for workers and communities affected by the phase out of carbon-intensive sectors.
Investment allocated by the board would ideally cover three broad areas: funds to support displaced workers in carbon-intensive sectors, investments for economic diversification, and funds to expand the low-carbon economy across all of Canada.
Supporting displaced workers could be facilitated by the aforementioned Just Transition Benefit, while regional economic diversification and national low-carbon economy expansion could be created by a new Economic Diversification Crown Corporation. This Crown Corporation would invest in alternative industries in regions transitioning away from fossil fuels through unionized public and private job creation.
These components provide a general framework for potentially transformative Just Transition legislation.