With 84 per cent of Canadians not knowing about the Liberal plan, here’s everything you need to know about the ‘just transition’
In January, Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal natural resources minister, announced that in 2023 the Liberal government would be releasing details of its plan for a “just transition.”
A new Postmedia-Leger poll shows that a whopping 84 per cent of Canadians have never even heard of such a plan.
So, what exactly is it?
The National Post’s Tyler Dawson unpacks everything we know about the federal government’s plan to help Canadians who lose their jobs as the country transitions toward a greener economy.
Where did the idea for a just transition come from?
Back in 2015, there was a meeting in Paris, France, to discuss climate change policy. The result was the Paris Agreement, an international, legally binding treaty for fighting climate change. Canada is a signatory. The United States is, too (Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2017, but Joe Biden re-entered the treaty in 2021).
In the preamble to the agreement, signatories are asked to take into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities” in any climate change plans.
It anticipated that at least some of those who work in extractive industries will lose their jobs as a result of any shift towards a greener economy and the (eventual) declining demand for oil and gas.
The idea for a just transition first originated with trade unions looking to protect the livelihoods of working people.
What will the Liberal plan look like?
It’s hard to say.
Wilkinson has promised legislation in the coming months, which will give a better idea of what such a transition might actually look like.
The broad strokes of the idea, at least in principle, do exist, though.
“This is the chance to transform our economy to take advantage of new markets, new supply chains and new opportunities for economic growth and job creation,” says a government paper. “The Government of Canada is committed to supporting the future and livelihood of workers and their communities as the world moves toward a low-carbon future.”
Basically, it means the federal government wants to ensure there is training for new careers (for example, in hydrogen vs. coal), work via government funding (from building programs) and that diversification opportunities for resource communities are identified.
Has this been tried anywhere else?
It has. The European Union has its own just transition framework. And there are Canadian examples that follow a similar pattern.
Canada is already transitioning away from domestic coal use, although it remains a major export product. Since March 2019, the federal government has announced $185 million in spending to help affected communities. This includes $35 million for “skills development and economic diversification,” and $150 million for infrastructure development.
Perhaps the most notable example of such an economic transition happened in Newfoundland and Labrador in the mid-1990s. At the time, cod stocks were declining precipitously, and the federal government instituted a moratorium on fishing.
The government spent millions in the 1990s on retraining programs for affected fishers.
How many jobs would be lost/gained under such a plan?
TD Economics estimated in 2021 that some 600,000 Canadians are employed either directly or indirectly by the oil and gas sector, and that between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of them could lose their jobs; that’s between 312,000 and 450,000 people.
Given the concentration of energy workers in a few provinces, this is likely to have an outsized regional impact.
“For those that are displaced, policies focused on income support and job retraining and upskilling will be needed to help smooth the transition,” the report says. “Workers currently have to navigate a complex web of programs delivered by a multitude of organizations and institutions with little foresight as to whether or not the skills gained actually align with what is needed.”
Have the Liberals done anything yet?
Yes, there have been a number of jobs programs adjacent to climate-change initiatives.
Already, the Liberals point to several actions taken to date that are indicative of what future planning might look like.
For example, building retrofits and renovations, due to $4.4 billion in federal spending, will create “thousands of jobs in construction, manufacturing, sales, clean technology and financial services,” the government says.
What are other politicians saying?
They aren’t impressed.
Both Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley, the NDP leader, have called on the Liberals to scrap the plan.
“We are not going to be shutting down our oil and natural gas industry. We are not going to be transitioning our workers — who are in good, high-paying, meaningful, important jobs — into installing solar panels, which is the idiocy (federal Green Party Leader) Elizabeth May was first proposing when this kind of thing came out,” Smith has said.
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has also spoken out against the plan.
“The ‘Just Transition’ is another attack on our working people to the benefit of the global elites & the foreign oil dictators.”
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