With a federal consultation into a Canadian just transition act now under way, a prominent Indigenous activist is challenging the Trudeau government to ensure the legislation doesn’t end up as little more than empty words.
“If Canada is to do what it takes to tackle both the violence of colonization against Indigenous Peoples along with the climate emergency, we need to fundamentally change our economy,” writes Clayton Thomas-Müller, a senior campaign specialist at 350.org and member of Pukatawagan Cree Nation, in a September 30 op-ed for the Globe and Mail.
To that end, Thomas-Müller calls on Canada to mark the occasion of its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by affirming its commitment to a just transition for those most likely to be affected by the shift to a carbon-free economy—namely, rural, northern, and Indigenous communities.
Thomas-Müller recalls how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made “big promises” to Canada’s Indigenous peoples when he was first elected—“to end boil-water advisory circumstances on over 100 First Nations, to act on the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls crisis, and to implement all the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. While the prime minister “has made some progress, it’s been too little and too slow,” he says.
And then there is the climate crisis. Against Trudeau’s “bold” avowals at the Paris climate talks in 2015 that Canada would do its part to limit global heating to 1.5ºC, Thomas-Müller juxtaposes the reality of what has actually taken place since then: the Trans Mountain pipeline purchased, fossil fuel subsidies surging to C$18 billion in 2020, and RCMP authorized to enable Coastal GasLink’s destructive incursion into Wet’suwet’en lands.
Those decisions “have led to countless scenes of violence and criminalization of Indigenous Peoples,” he notes, and the federal climate plan itself “has been deemed ‘highly insufficient’ by global experts, putting us on the way to 4°C of warming.” If the country were to commit to a just transition away from a fossil fuel economy, both “the violence of colonialization” and the climate crisis could be solved.
But to be both a just transition and one that “can retool our economy at the scale the climate crisis demands,” Canada must commit to three fundamental guarantees, he writes. First, “it needs to be a fundamental principle that anyone who is facing job loss because of this transition is guaranteed a good, green, unionized job.”
Second: a just transition must put people and communities first. “It can’t be another excuse to hand billions of dollars over to Big Oil and other corporations,” Thomas-Müller stresses.
And, finally, the transition must be a matter of mind and spirit, aligning both with climate science from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and with ancestral Indigenous knowledge.
“A good start is a Just Transition Act that leaves no worker, First Nation, or rural community behind,” he writes. “We need Trudeau and this government to hear us, work with us, and act in a way this moment demands.”