The federal government’s long-awaited sustainable jobs legislation was met with applause and endorsements from unions and labour groups Thursday, despite negotiations going down to the wire.
Organized labour was instrumental in shaping the legislation, and negotiations went “way past the 11th hour,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has been championing the bill.
The intense negotiations did not stop politicians and labour leaders from presenting a united front to praise the bill when it was tabled on June 15. At a press conference announcing the Sustainable Jobs Act, representatives from Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), International Union of Operating Engineers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with cabinet ministers and NDP MP Daniel Blaikie to endorse the long-awaited legislation.
Bill C-50 presents an “unprecedented opportunity” for labour to collaborate with governments to simultaneously grow the economy and tackle climate change, said Bea Bruske, president of the CLC, Canada’s largest labour organization.
“The Sustainable Jobs Act signals a crucial milestone in our fight against climate change and the protection of workers' interests,” Bruske said in a press release, adding it wouldn't have been possible without the NDP-Liberal confidence-and-supply agreement.
Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson thanked unions, labour groups and NDP MPs, in particular Angus, for their work on the bill at the press conference Thursday morning.
The proposed bill is intended to create a framework for the federal government to deliver on its many promises, including those laid out in the interim sustainable jobs plan released in February.
Environmental groups also celebrated the arrival of the proposed legislation, but several, including Environmental Defence, say the language on climate should have been stronger. While the act’s three-page preamble talks about climate change, Aliénor Rougeot from Environmental Defence says the actual legalese is short on specifics.
“Their definition of net-zero economy is basically an invitation to have carbon capture,” Rougeot told Canada’s National Observer in an interview after the legislation was tabled. The Liberals see emissions-cutting carbon capture technology as a way to reduce climate pollution from the oil and gas industry, but environmental groups point out there are problems with the technology, and that oil and gas produced with carbon capture still creates the vast majority of emissions when it is burned.
The federal government’s long-awaited sustainable jobs legislation was met with applause and endorsements from unions and labour groups Thursday, despite negotiations going down to the wire. #SustainableJobs #cdnpoli
“It's really more of a labour bill, of a recognition of labour's rights, but it really doesn't do much on the sustainability angle,” she said, adding Indigenous rights are also “overall, quite absent.”
Bill C-50 still has to work its way through the House of Commons and the Senate, and will be subject to amendments that could strengthen or weaken it. But Rougeot thinks it would be unwise for any political party to go against a bill so heavily endorsed by powerful labour groups like Unifor and the CLC.
Unions’ involvement and endorsement of the Sustainable Jobs Act is “quite significant” and “sends a clear message” to all parties in the House of Commons that this is important to workers whose livelihoods are being affected by climate change and should be approached collaboratively, said Independent Sen. Hassan Yussuff. Yussuff is a prominent labour activist both within Canada’s borders and internationally.
He is past-president of both the CLC and Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, previously served as co-chair for Canada’s coal just transition task force and has participated in countless task forces, including the federal government’s Net-Zero Advisory Body.
“To oppose the bill (would) really be quite disheartening to begin with, and secondly would be presumptuous for those people to think that they know better for workers,” Yussuff told Canada’s National Observer in a phone interview.
The Conservative Party’s environment critic, Gérard Deltell, declined a request for comment.
Yussuff says there “will be transition in certain industries” and this can be done in a positive way, or we can leave workers to fend for themselves.
“I'm hoping all political parties will reflect very seriously on the importance of this union supporting this bill. And hopefully, weigh into it,” he said. “Nothing is wrong with political parties coming together to work for the common good of the country, so I think this is an opportunity.”
He hopes that “if a party may not have been there advocating for just transition,” politicians will rethink their position and understand this bill as a positive thing for workers. Scrutinizing the bill to try to improve it will send a message they are trying to make sure this legislation is the best possible defence for workers across the country as we undertake an energy transition, said Yussuff.
The federal government first promised legislation to ensure a fair and equitable energy transition in 2019. The government ditched the well-known term “just transition” (which was coined by the labour movement) after it became highly politicized by provincial governments in Western Canada, including Alberta.
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre added his voice to the anti-just transition fray earlier this year when he backed up Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s assertion that the federal government’s commitment to introduce just transition legislation is part of an anti-energy and anti-resource agenda.
Wilkinson shot back at these criticisms at the press conference Thursday.
“I have said many times that it is in the economic interest of Saskatchewan and Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia to be aggressively reducing the production emissions associated with oil and gas,” he said.
“The language around sustainable jobs is language that (Alberta Premier Smith) actually has endorsed, that is focused on building an economy for the future that's going to create good jobs and economic opportunity,” said Wilkinson, adding he will meet with Smith in Calgary on Monday.
Angus highlighted the power of having organized labour from Western Canada be part of the conversation. Bringing energy workers, like members of the International Union of Operating Engineers, into the conversation was one of the NDP’s main goals throughout the process, he added.
This bill “puts the Conservatives in a difficult situation,” he said.
“When you have the building trades, the electrical workers, Unifor Western Canada, steelworkers (in) Western Canada, the electrical and boilermakers all from Western Canada saying, ‘We want to be part of a new economy,’ it takes away the credibility of the conservatives who exploited the oil and gas and the energy workers for years, claiming to be their voice,” said Angus.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer