Earlier this year, CPJ outlined our call on the federal government to invest in a just transition to a modernized, diversified green economy. Now, as Canada navigates the tremendous challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe that these investments are more important than ever. This week, CPJ joined a broad civil society coalition calling on the federal government to provide financial supports directly to workers in Alberta and across the country, while also investing in what is needed to grow and support a resilient low carbon economy.
March 23, 2020
To the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,
Cc: Federal Cabinet Ministers
COVID-19 is presenting real and immediate risks to people’s health and livelihoods. It is appropriate and necessary for the federal government to make major interventions to keep people safe and healthy, to keep food on our tables and roofs over our heads. What is clear in these unstable times is how much we need economic resilience. Any federal government intervention to protect health and livelihoods must build an economy that’s ready to weather any crisis. Oil and gas workers and their families, like many others across Canada, urgently need financial support.
The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Russia was enough to devastate Canada’s oil and gas industry before COVID-19 forced the economy-wide slowdown. Now, oil prices have reached historic lows and they may never reach levels that support Canadian production again.
The federal government has the opportunity with this stimulus package to immediately and directly support workers in Alberta and across the country while also investing in what is needed to grow and support a low carbon economy, and the kind of economy that can weather storms.
Decades of the impacts of colonialism including government neglect in healthcare in Indigenous communities has led to an overall lack of pandemic preparedness. The two key public health measures recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are hand-washing and social distancing. Neither can be effectively carried out in the majority of Indigenous communities with non-potable water and substandard, overcrowded housing, deepening the impact of the burden of illness at the community level. There is consistent evidence that Indigenous people in particular are at increased risk of severe outcomes and health status disparities during outbreaks, demanding equitable distribution of human and material resources.
Giving billions of dollars to failing oil and gas companies will not help workers and only prolongs our reliance on fossil fuels. Oil and gas companies are already heavily subsidized in Canada and the public cannot keep propping them up with tax breaks and direct support forever. Such measures benefit corporate bottom lines far more than they aid workers and communities facing public health and economic crises.
We, a collection of labour organizations and health, environmental, faith and social justice organizations, representing more than 1.3 million people across Canada, are asking the Federal government, which has committed to the Just Transition Act, to put in place a recovery program with measures to hasten a just transition and protect workers as production continues to decline in the coming years. Instead of providing a bail out to oil and gas companies in the form of share purchases or loan guarantees, the Federal government must create an economic stimulus package that includes three critical measures:
- Oil and gas workers, like all workers from all sectors, need to be able to immediately access income support in order to preserve personal and public health. This support includes increased access to employment insurance and paid emergency leave as needed for all workers, regardless of immigration status, as well as income security. This applies to migrant and undocumented workers.
- Stimulus money should offer immediate relief directly to workers and provide opportunities for training, education and employment in existing and emerging low-carbon sectors like energy efficiency, technology, healthcare and renewable energy. A program styled on the bailout of automakers in 2008 will unfortunately put the public at similar risk of having spent billions of dollars with little to show for it in a decade.
- Money for orphan well cleanup should be administered by an independent fund with representation from Indigenous communities, local governments and landowners who can ensure it is used to reclaim wells where the company is bankrupt and its remaining assets have already been spent for this purpose. It should also be tied to regulatory change in Alberta to ensure the province puts in place a polluter-pays program so the public is not left with these liabilities in the future.