Good, clean jobs
Canada has finally updated its main environmental law. Communities and First Nations are joining together to save the B.C. river that sustains them. And Indigenous advocates want conservation laws to protect animals — and the people who rely on them — before they’re endangered.
A couple days ago, the federal government made good on a long-standing promise to introduce a sustainable jobs bill. So far, the law has been met with a range of reactions, but it also acknowledges an important reality: the transition to clean energy is already here, and the longer Canada waits to act, the more we stand to miss out. This week, I spoke with Ollie Sheldrick of Clean Energy Canada to understand what’s in the long-awaited bill and why embracing clean energy isn’t just good for the planet but for prosperity, too.
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected].
Have a good weekend and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
‘The right thing to do’
After years of waiting, the federal government’s sustainable jobs bill finally landed Thursday, drawing mixed reviews from policy analysts, environmentalists and others. But no matter your political leaning — or your take on climate policy — the race to a low-carbon economy is here.
According to a recent report from Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based out of Simon Fraser University, the energy transition stands to create 700,000 new jobs if the country reaches net zero by 2050. The shift away from fossil fuels is expected to cut roughly 1.5 million jobs from the oil and gas industry, but an additional 2.2 million clean energy jobs more than make up for the loss. In Alberta alone, clean energy jobs are expected to grow by 10 per cent a year — the fastest of any province or territory.
Conversely, giving up on our net-zero pledge would result in 100,000 fewer energy jobs than we have today. And no matter what we do from here on out, slumping demand is expected to take out a ton of oil production jobs by 2050 — at least 93 per cent.
And so, the bill’s arrival is welcome, says Ollie Sheldrick, program manager for the clean economy at Clean Energy Canada.
“Government is definitely taking seriously the importance of planning for the new economy and making sure that workers are a big part of the conversation and are brought along in this process,” he says.
There are three main parts to the legislation, which aims to create and protect jobs as the country shifts to a clean energy economy:
Creation of the Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council
The 15-seat council, designed to be a point of communication between the government and industry and labour representatives, will aim to ensure sustainable job plans are “responsive to the real needs of Canadian workers and businesses,” Ollie explains.
Since the council is relatively small, he says, “whoever's on that will wield a relatively high level of influence.” Clean Energy Canada hopes to see labour and industry representatives from sectors like energy, agriculture and transportation get a seat at the table.
A commitment to delivering on action plans
Ottawa will be required to publish an action plan every five years outlining what it is doing to create and protect jobs in the energy sector and then report on its progress.
A sustainable jobs secretariat
The secretariat will be responsible for co-ordinating the implementation of the federal government’s sustainable jobs plan.
“Between the three, they do seem to address the biggest challenges facing a jobs plan,” Ollie says. But while the bill is generally a positive development, he explains, there is “some cause for pause” on its finer points.
For example, the bill’s first true deadline comes at the end of 2025, when Ottawa must publish a sustainable jobs action plan. (The feds published an interim plan in February.)
“It's a bit of a wait, given how rapidly we are transitioning,” Ollie says. He points specifically to some of the big investments coming into Canada as a sign the federal government needs to speed up its work to keep pace with what’s happening.
“When we're getting EV factory investments coming in week after week after week at the pace that we are, for example, making sure that we're thinking strategically about the labour supply for those, that needs to be happening as much now as it will in the coming years,” he says.
What is promising is the role of labour organizations in shaping the bill. At a press conference Thursday, federal cabinet ministers and MPs were joined by representatives from Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, International Union of Operating Engineers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to unveil the new legislation.
The bill also includes “some good recognition of the importance of centring Indigenous voices (and) those sort of most affected by the energy transition,” Ollie says.
“The more that we can both communicate that this is an opportunity” and also ensure “real, meaningful engagement with the labour community,” Ollie says, “that is a benefit for the climate and it’s a benefit for Canadian workers. It's a benefit for everyone, and for our sort of wider prosperity as well, as an economy and as a country.”
And in a political landscape where economics and climate action are often pitted against one another, recognizing the opportunities of the energy transition benefits both files.
“You can kind of put climate to one side to a degree and make purely an economic argument for a lot of this stuff,” he explains, using the debate around how to clean up Ontario’s electricity grid as an example. The Ford government and the province’s grid operator are making a case for more gas-fired power plants in the future, but Ollie points out renewable energy sources like wind and solar — plus storage to deal with times when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining — are still cheaper per kilowatt than their fossil fuel counterparts. Clean energy is also an attractive option for businesses looking to set up shop, Ollie explains, because more and more companies now have their own climate commitments to keep.
“This is just the right thing to do for the future of our economy.”
More CNO reads
Are Poilievre’s conservative allies the real gatekeepers? If the conservatives actually want to get rid of the “gatekeepers” and build more housing in Canada’s cities, they should start with the ones in their own backyard, writes columnist Max Fawcett.
A growing number of Canadian farmers have no succession plan. Forty per cent of the people who run Canada's farms will retire by 2033, and more than half of them have no succession plan, Abdul Matin Sarfraz reports.
Tea Creek farm regenerates soil and soul. A Tsimshian man's regenerative farm in northern B.C. has blossomed into a hub for Indigenous people pushing back against decades of colonialism to reclaim sovereignty over their food, Marc Fawcett-Atkinson reports.
A wasteful bet on a dying industry. Canada is spending billions on a sunset industry, writes poet and former energy worker Ross Belot. Is that the best use of our limited dollars to fund the green transition?
Reforms to Canada’s main environmental law are finally here. But it’s unclear how the updated bill will protect front-line communities in what are often called “sacrifice zones,” Matteo Cimellaro reports.
Unions and environmentalists team up in a bid to sink a B.C. port expansion project. Neither group wants a massive Metro Vancouver port expansion to move forward, Natasha Bulowski reports.
B.C. communities are on edge. A wildfire has shut down the highway serving several Vancouver Island communities and First Nations, slowing deliveries of fuel, medicine and other supplies, Rochelle Baker reports.
I wasn’t expecting a red carpet at the Royal Bank of Canada’s shareholder meeting. But I wasn’t expecting to be segregated to a back room, either, writes Wet’suwet’en land defender Eve Saint.
Correction (4:43 p.m. ET, June 20, 2023): A previous version of this newsletter said fossil fuel jobs are expected to decline by at least 93 per cent by 2050 in a net-zero economy. In fact, oil production jobs are expected to decline by at least 93 per cent, while all fossil fuel jobs are expected to decline by 66 per cent.