Canada’s Just Transition Task Force issued its report on how to best protect workers and communities as the country phases out coal-powered energy, and IBEW members were there to make their voices heard.
“It was a humbling experience,” said Executive Assistant to the First District Vice President Matt Wayland, who served on the task force. “I’m proud of the work we did.”
The 11-member team was formed last year to help Canada meet its target of phasing out coal by 2030, and to do it in a way that supports the communities and individuals impacted. In addition to Wayland, the group included representatives from the environmental, government, academic and business sectors.
The task force toured the four provinces with coal-fired energy: Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. They visited seven facilities, hosted eight public sessions, and met with representatives of 15 communities and more than 80 stakeholder groups. In each province, IBEW locals participated in the meetings and discussions.
“Our locals were very well prepared,” Wayland said. “They’re doing everything they can to make sure no one gets left behind.”
One of those locals was Regina, Saskatchewan, Local 2067, which the task force visited in June of 2018.
“There will be positives as a result of the recommendations put forth by the task force,” said Local 2067 Business Manager Jason Tibbs, who made a presentation to the group. “However, they will not prevent members from losing their livelihood as well as significant lost values of their homes. The communities will be devastated by the phase out of coal-fired generation.”
Tibbs said that a lot of his members feel that western Canada has been alienated from the rest of the country and that decisions made by the government are done without proper consideration of the effect on places like Saskatchewan.
“It was my desire that the task force go away with a graphic picture as to the true impact the closure would have on the affected members, families and their communities,” Tibbs said. “The decision for some of the communities is a death sentence and I wanted the task force to see the reality of that and to put forth recommendations that would assist everyone who was negatively affected.”
The situation is different in New Brunswick, where Fredericton Local 37 Business Manager and International Executive Council member Ross Galbraith noted that the province is already “punching above its weight” with regard to reducing emissions. In terms of community impact, however, many members share sentiments with their brothers and sisters in other provinces.
“Nobody’s jumping up and down about the report,” Galbraith said. “It’s hard to get excited about changes coming 10 years down the road. Still, it’s a good road map for getting there and we appreciate the opportunity to be involved upfront and throughout the process.”
In Alberta, the coal phase-out is already underway and many working people have already been laid off, including IBEW members. Following the release of the provincial government’s 2015 Climate Leadership Plan, labour leaders organized affected unions to form the Coal Transition Coalition, which included Calgary Local 254 and Edmonton Local 1007.
The task force’s report noted that, “The work of the CTC was instrumental in defining the supports that Alberta coal-affected workers would need as a part of the transition. This is a concrete example of how ensuring worker involvement throughout the process leads to better policy decisions and ultimately better outcomes.”
The task force came up with 10 recommendations that include increasing funding for resources like locally-driven transition centres, a pension-bridging program and investment in infrastructure projects in the impacted areas.
“The report allows the IBEW and other affected organizations to galvanize our support for those members who will be impacted by the policy changes, and to do our part to make sure that no one is left out,” Wayland said.
The report, released in March, also noted the importance of a holistic approach that addresses the mental and societal impacts. As the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment noted in a companion report, planning is required to ensure that the transition’s benefits are not offset by decreases in social detriments.
“It’s not just employment that we’re dealing with, it’s fears and it’s livelihood,” Galbraith said. “It was good to see that the task force seemed to get that.”
The Just Transition Task Force is the first of its kind, Wayland said, and could serve as a blueprint for other countries looking to move toward cleaner energy without unnecessarily disrupting its citizenry.
“It’s important to remember that the mandate was not to change the position on shutting down coal, but how to transition,” said First District International Vice President Thomas Reid. “A big part of that has to be making sure workers are involved from the beginning and not left behind to shoulder the brunt of this change.”