The world won’t wait for Canada to act

February 5, 2024

By Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, and Chris Severson-Baker, Executive Director of the Pembina Institute as published in the Toronto Star

We face an existential climate crisis and a critical moment for our economy.

Make no mistake, countries around the world are rapidly moving towards a low-carbon economy. No one is waiting on Canada to get our political house in order, so we can keep up. If we miss the boat today, the opportunity to create good, family-supporting jobs in a low-carbon economy will sail right past us. What Canada does now will determine the kinds of jobs our workers will have and the kinds of communities we will build in the future.

This is why the labour movement, businesses and climate groups have been working closely with governments on a sustainable jobs plan to build a future that works. The roadmap for this work is contained in the Sustainable Jobs Act, Bill C-50, tabled in the House of Commons last June.

The stakes are very high. Overall global investments in the energy transition soared to $1.8 trillion in 2023, a 17% jump from the year before according to a recent BloombergNEF report.

New sustainable industries are moving forward at warp speed. Canada reached 5% of total new car registrations being zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) in the first quarter of 2022. By the third quarter of 2023, that had more than doubled to over 12%. When the adoption of a new technology reaches a tipping point, it can quickly become mainstream. Microwaves took decades to get to that point, then in the 1980s suddenly almost every household had one.

Today, Canadians are buying electric cars and investments are flowing into this burgeoning industry. But like with so many sectors, there is stiff competition for these dollars. The American’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) means our closest neighbour now has aggressive subsidies and tax credits, many paired with job standards. Canada needs to be smart and strategic to compete for investments, and to ensure those investments create and protect the good jobs that support communities across Canada.

This is where the Sustainable Jobs Act comes in. It brings stakeholders around a single table, in a new Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council to build the plans that can give Canada a competitive advantage unlocking these new opportunities.

By bringing workers, businesses, Indigenous Peoples, and environmental groups together with governments behind coordinated action, we’ll show the world that Canada is ready. Passing the Sustainable Jobs Act and getting the new Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council working will deliver the message, loud and clear: Canada is a great place to invest, with workers who are second to none and ready to get the job done.

Since it was tabled, unions and environmental groups have worked with the government and opposition parties to strengthen the bill. Now we must pass it as soon as possible, so we can get started building an economy where sustainable industries are employing workers in good, sustainable jobs in every province and every region of the country. The kinds of good union jobs that power flourishing, livable communities.

We are ready to start building this better future, but we need the government to act with urgency, push past those trying to obstruct good jobs for Canadians and get the Sustainable Jobs Act passed as soon as possible.

If we don’t get this bill passed soon, we could delay climate action and fail to unlock these opportunities, sacrificing thousands and thousands of good future jobs and billions in future investment. Our workers, communities, and planet cannot afford to let this opportunity slip through our fingers.

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The Canadian Labour Congress is the largest labour organization in Canada, bringing together dozens of national and international unions, provincial and territorial federations of labour and community-based labour councils to represent more than 3 million workers across the country.

The Pembina Institute is a charitable think tank working to solve today’s greatest energy challenges — reducing the harmful impacts of fossil fuels while supporting the transition to an energy system that is clean, safe and sustains a high quality of life.

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