IBEW Canada has been offered one of 15 member seats on the federal government’s new Union-Led Advisory Table.
Having a voice on this committee is an important accomplishment. All panel members are leaders in the Canadian union community. There are no representatives from business or any other constituency.
The committee is charged with submitting a report by Oct. 31 that includes recommendations on how to support workers affected by rapid economic change, especially the transition to clean energy.
“We get all our best ideas from workers,” said Seamus O’Regan, minister of labour and seniors. “We need their advice to confront the big challenges we’re facing. So we’re doing more than just giving workers a seat at the table. They will lead it.”
First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk said, “It is an honor to have the IBEW represented on this committee,” noting that the Brotherhood’s training programs are recognized as some of the best in Canada by labour and business leaders. Those training centers will be crucial in aiding workers affected by the changing economy.
“This is for workers, by workers,” Shewchuk said. “We know the workforce best. Certainly, the business side plays a role in what jobs are coming down. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about workers and what they need.”
Panel members hope the report not only brings positive change immediately but also proves useful if there is a change in the government. Canada will have its next federal election no later than 2025. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the ruling Liberals lead a minority government, and the IBEW has had a positive relationship with it since Trudeau came to power in 2015.
“Our role is to make recommendations that the government can put into policy,” said Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress and chair of the panel.
No matter the outcome of the election, the transition to clean energy will continue. “We really have an opportunity to shape what jobs look like going forward and where the good jobs and careers might be in a changing economy,” Shewchuk said. “We can lay out where training needs are so all the political parties can go to that document and see what needs to be done so the clean energy transition can be a success,” he added. “We must ensure that good-paying, union jobs that are being phased out during this transition will be replaced by equally good-paying jobs in the future.”
Bruske, who has worked closely with the IBEW in Canada on many issues and elections, is pleased to see its involvement.
The panel is “crucial to everything pertaining to the workforce, especially for mid-career workers and making sure they have training opportunities in place and identifying which sectors are at risk,” she said.
Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, also is a member of the panel. The IBEW is a member of the CBTU, and Strickland is glad it is represented.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “We’ve got really good leadership with the IBEW in Canada, and I’m really pleased to have them at the table.”
Strickland noted that the electrical industry is heavily involved in nearly every facet of the energy transition, from the construction of electrical vehicle charging facilities to wind turbines to hydrogen facilities.
There are other important issues besides training for displaced workers the panel can make recommendations on, he said. For instance, Canada has struggled to define better usability and reliability standards for its electric vehicle charging stations.
“Union construction members are used to change, but as an industry, I don’t think we’ve seen such rapid change since the Industrial Revolution,” Strickland said.
Seeing the Biden administration protect union jobs while also leading the transition to clean energy in the United States has provided a model for Canadians to better manage their transition, Shewchuk said. “Younger workers who are looking for a career and who care about climate change can see the electrical sector does both,” he said. “It’s a good-paying job, and you can have a positive impact on the environment.”