An Idea to Change Our World

Prime Minister Trudeau’s energy plan and climate strategy are both in ruins. The Liberals gambled on a massive new pipeline to drive economic growth, while presenting a few finely polished marketing gimmicks designed to look like action on climate change. Both efforts have failed spectacularly. With the government empty-handed and out of ideas, the labour movement has an opportunity to propose an alternative. Now is the time to put forward a climate plan that transitions Canada off fossil fuels by investing in millions of good, low-carbon jobs.

Some background. On the heels of a summer of record-breaking wildfires, flooding and heatwaves, Canada’s largest prospective pipeline, the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, is legally dead in the water. At the end of August, the Federal Court of Appeal struck down the pipeline’s approval permits. The court ruled that the National Energy Board’s review was so flawed that the project could not continue. It had failed to consider major impacts, like the increase of tankers off the coast of British Columbia (something environmentalists have pointed out for years), and that the consultation process with First Nations was a sham.

Right after the ruling, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced that, because of Trudeau’s failure to get the pipeline moving, Alberta was pulling out of Canada’s national climate plan. “Without Alberta,” Notley told reporters, “the climate action plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Alberta is not alone in abandoning ship. Saskatchewan is challenging the federally mandated carbon price in court, and Doug Ford, only months into his tenure, has joined them.

Trudeau’s entire climate plan was based on all provinces putting a price on carbon that would gradually increase to $50 per tonne by 2022. Now that looks impossible. Therein lies the rub. Instead of weaning Canada off oil and investing in renewables, Trudeau gambled on expanding Canada as a petro-state, dependent on one volatile (and mostly foreign-owned) resource. The hope was that a major project like the Trans Mountain Pipeline would boost the economy enough to appease those on the political right. To appease environmentalists and maintain at least a light green sheen on his party, Trudeau also opted for a carbon tax that is wholly inefficient at addressing climate change.

The carbon tax represented the perfect Liberal middle ground: even inadequate climate action would be possible only if it led to economic growth for the financial elite. Indeed, that’s why Trudeau wholeheartedly adopted Harper’s emission targets (the weakest in the G7) and why he has embraced more than $3 billion in annual subsidies to oil and gas. Now, after years of sacrificing the environment in the name of the economy, the Liberals have nothing to show for it. The government is empty-handed and desperate to redeem itself. That’s where we come in. If the labour movement can act together, we can seize this moment to push forward a genuine climate action plan that works for workers.

As mentioned in Our Times’ Summer 2018 issue, the federal government could adopt the Delivering Community Power vision presented by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and its allies to transform post offices into local hubs of renewable energy, postal banking and more community services. That could start tomorrow.

Next, we could build on those proposals and apply them to the entire economy. In fact, that’s exactly what the Green Economy Network has already suggested with their One Million Climate Jobs plan. They have created a roadmap to re-tool entire industries, retrain workers and, ultimately, to meet global climate targets. By investing five per cent of the federal budget in renewables, energy efficiency, public transit, and high-speed rail between major cities, the government would help create one million good unionized jobs, while cutting greenhouse gases by 35 per cent. The entire project would cost $16.2 billion per year for five years. Meanwhile the price tag for Trans Mountain is $6.4 billion and growing, while Kinder Morgan promised only 90 permanent jobs from the project.

The ideas are there; we just need the political will. Meanwhile, the labour movement could drive this change. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has done incredible work pushing for a national pharmacare plan. Inspired by decades of work by the health coalitions, the CLC has invested in them and their allies, organized townhalls across the country and, recently, a series of activist training sessions. Now pharmacare is set to be a key election issue in 2019 and the Liberal Party voted it their top priority at convention. The CLC could do the same kind of campaign for a just transition off fossil fuels. Multiple unions would need to devote staff, funding, and resources to this fight, including investing in coalition work with activists and environmental organizations. It would be a massive undertaking, but it could reshape the entire economy and redistribute power.

The timing couldn’t be better. Less than a year out from the federal election, parties are hungry for a way out of this mess. For the last decade environmentalists and unions have been on the defensive. Now it’s time to launch an offensive to collectively determine our future.

James Hutt is a labour organizer, writer, and climate activist on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory (Ottawa).