The federal government is getting mixed reviews after announcing an engagement process on a just, equitable transition for fossil fuel workers and communities, nearly two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised a federal Just Transition Act during the last round of electioneering in 2019.
“Workers in the natural resource sectors helped build this country,” Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan, Jr. said in an online event Tuesday afternoon. “These same workers will build our low-carbon future. It is their skills, determination, and ingenuity that will get us to net-zero and ensure our continued prosperity. They won’t be left behind—they will lead the way.”
“Supporting a greener economy means providing workers with the skills training they need to get good-quality jobs, while supporting industry by building the much-needed capacity in these emerging sectors,” added Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough.
The announcement invites feedback on proposed just transition legislation, including “the development of just transition principles that would inform government decision-making and the creation of a Just Transition Advisory Body.”
350 Canada welcomed the announcement in an email to supporters. “This is huge,” wrote campaigner Atiya Jaffar, just hours after O’Regan’s and Qualtrough’s online session. “And it’s all thanks to the tens of thousands of people who spoke up and took action to demand a Just Transition Act.”
But Unifor National Representative Ken Bondy said trade union members are still a long way from victory on a just transition.
“The initiative to hold this consultation is welcome,” he told The Energy Mix. “Our frustration is that, despite providing us with seats at the table, more often than not the government makes its decisions and simply tells us how it’s going to be. We’re not willing to sit back and say we were allowed a voice, but then our concerns were not heard.”
He said Unifor is looking for a federal commitment to a just transition ministry that gives all stakeholders continued input on the process, “not just simply a piece of legislation”.
Bondy added that the announcement was tailor-made to produce a positive reaction—on the surface.
“There are organizations that would look at this announcement as extremely positive,” and cheer the government for taking action, he said. “If you’re representing workers, you know full well the frustration that nothing has been done” since 2019, “and we’re going to call them out on that.”
Iron & Earth Executive Director Luisa Da Silva said the federal news took her “by complete surprise”, but saw it echoing her organization’s survey results last week that showed more than two-thirds of fossil fuel workers interested in jobs in the net-zero economy—and looking for upskilling to make sure they aren’t left behind in the transition.
“I heard the Minister say the landscape has changed, and they’re hearing workers’ voices,” she said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s coming off the back of Iron & Earth letting government know that workers want change, workers are ready for change, and workers are ready to power Canada’s energy future. They just need some upskilling.”
The challenge now is to “make sure the government delivers on what they’ve committed to, that they remain committed to making this an inclusive, just transition and bringing fossil fuel industry workers to the table,” Da Silva added. “These are the people who have been on the ground, who know what needs to happen,” and “have the skills and expertise to enable Canada to meet our energy future.”