B.C. delegates call for 'green new deal' as federal Liberals debate future of climate policy

As the federal government pushes to lower greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to cleaner fuel sources, delegates at the Liberal Party's policy convention will debate how to craft a "just transition" for energy workers who will lose their jobs as a result.

Youth wing proposes a policy resolution to implement a universal basic income in Canada

A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta. Liberal party delegates will debate a 'just transition' for energy workers affected by the shift to cleaner fuel sources. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

As the federal government pushes to lower greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to cleaner fuel sources, delegates at the Liberal Party's policy convention will debate how to craft a "just transition" for energy workers who will lose their jobs as a result.

And after the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) kept millions of people afloat with monthly cheques during the first wave of the pandemic, some Liberal members now want to see a similar program become a permanent feature of the country's social safety net.

Thousands of Liberal supporters have gathered online for a three-day policy convention — a chance to debate new ideas and craft a platform ahead of the next federal election.

Beyond talk of new social programs and a more ambitious approach to climate change, delegates will debate more than 30 other proposals that made it out of policy workshops to the convention floor for a final vote — including pitches for high-speed rail and improved internet infrastructure.

Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and the prime minister's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, are among the keynote speakers for today's program.

CBC News will have coverage of the Liberal and NDP policy conventions on CBC News Network, CBC Radio's The World at Six, The World This Weekend and World Report, The National and CBC.ca.

  • Watch special coverage on Power & Politics Friday beginning at 5 p.m. ET for convention analysis.
  • CBC News Network will have regular updates and live coverage of key events.
  • CBC.ca will have full news coverage and analysis and will livestream the conventions.
  • On Saturday, CBC Radio's The House will focus on the Liberal and NDP policy conventions starting at 9 a.m. ET.
  • On Sunday, Rosemary Barton Live will deliver convention news and analysis, including an interview with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh beginning at 10 a.m. ET. 

The B.C. chapter of the party is asking delegates to back a "green new deal" policy in Canada — a reference to an ambitious climate change plan proposed by some progressive Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

That plan, which failed to pass through the Senate, would have committed the United States to generating all power from clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources over time, among other proposals.

B.C. members say Canada needs a "10-year national mobilization" plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 because "a changing climate threatens human life, healthy communities and critical infrastructure."

While the proposal is light on specifics, backers of this "new deal" are calling for an "urgent, transparent and inclusive consultation process" with affected workers, labour unions, academics and businesses to come up with a way forward.

The federal government launched the Canada Coal Transition Initiative (CCTI) to fund economic development, training and career support for coal workers who will lose their jobs as coal-fired power plants come offline over the next decade.

Western Economic Diversification Canada has flowed money to communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan to attract new businesses and create jobs.

But the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that roughly 500,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in Canada's oil and gas sector. A sudden shift away from this sector could result in the loss of many more jobs and severe economic disruption.

The Green Party has said Canada needs "to retool our industry, retrain our workers" to give communities dependent on fossil fuels "the opportunity to put their vast skills and knowledge into the transition to renewable, responsible energy."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pilloried by some in Western Canada for suggesting in 2017 that the country needs to "phase out" the oilsands over time.

"We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels. That is going to take time. And in the meantime, we have to manage that transition," Trudeau said at a town hall meeting in Peterborough, Ont.

Asked today about the resolutions at a pandemic briefing with reporters, Trudeau said he would stay neutral on the policy proposals — and took a swipe at Conservative delegates who voted down a resolution at their party policy convention last month to acknowledge that "climate change is real" .

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity. We know in the past that challenging proposals brought on the floor of Liberal conventions made it into policy and have shaped Canada over the past number of years," Trudeau said.

"I'm not going to comment on any specific resolutions, but I know that what Liberals are going to do this weekend is talk about a wide range of great ideas that will help move Canada forward. What they won't be doing this weekend is debating about whether climate change is real. That debate is settled for Canadians."

Criticism of the Conservative convention climate vote has been a recurring theme at this Liberal get-together.

During a panel discussion on climate matters Friday, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson called the vote "astonishing" and said the Tories were "abandoning" workers who will be part of a green-friendly shift. Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said Tories have failed to meaningful address climate issues and have rather "stuck their head in the sand."

Liberal MP Marci Ien, a co-host of the convention, said the Conservatives "refuse to admit [climate change is] even real."

While Conservative delegates narrowly voted down the "climate change is real" resolution last month, the party's policy book already makes mention of climate change and includes some environmental policy options for a future Tory-led government.

Despite the resolution's rejection, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has promised to release a plan to drive down Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. O'Toole has said he'd repeal the Liberal government's carbon tax on consumers but supports levying a tax on large industrial emitters.

'They need a basic livable income'

Delegates will also debate a proposal, backed by the party's youth wing and the Ontario provincial chapter, that would commit the party to supporting a universal basic income (UBI).

With 8.7 per cent of Canadians living below the poverty line and thousands more struggling to make ends meet, backers of this policy say a UBI would "ensure that communities at risk (including Indigenous peoples) are able to feel financially secure."

"Be it further resolved that, given the success of the CERB program, that a UBI will assist seniors and low-income Canadians maintain an adequate standard of living, regardless of working status," the resolution reads.

Some senators appointed by the prime minister, including Sen. Kim Pate and Sen. Frances Lankin, have been urging the federal government to implement such a program, which would send cheques to families each month to supplement money earned through work or other sources.

"We urge you to consider endorsing guaranteed livable income at this week's Liberal policy convention," the senators wrote in a letter to Trudeau.

"As each day passes and we all work to build necessary health, economic and social supports and repair our tattered social safety net, we are all well aware of both the unmet needs and wide public support for ensuring support for the 3.5 million people still falling through the cracks. They need a basic livable income."

While the idea of a UBI has gained traction in progressive circles — supporters maintain the massive price tag of such a program could be offset by disbanding existing provincial social welfare schemes — academics who study poverty reduction are split on its value.

A 529-page report authored by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary concluded after a three-year investigation that a basic income for all is not the best way to address poverty and other social ills.

Rather, the report said, governments should improve existing social support programs for vulnerable groups with improved disability assistance, dental care programs and more money to help the working poor pay rent. A more targeted approach to help the disadvantaged, as opposed to a universal program like UBI, would do more to lift people out of poverty, the report concluded.

The Conservatives seized on a policy resolution from the Liberal Party's Alberta chapter. In a press release, the party condemned the proposal to forgive post-secondary student loans in exchange for volunteer work, saying such a program would amount to a revival of the ill-fated Canada Student Service Grant.

That program was disbanded in the face of intense controversy over the government's decision to give WE Charity a contract to administer the program — an organization with close ties to the prime minister's family.

"There is only one reason why the Liberals would want to recreate the Canada Student Service Grant, and that's to reward their friends and well-connected insiders," Conservative ethics critic MP Michael Barrett said in the statement, adding that if the government pursues this policy, Trudeau must "recuse himself" from decisions about student supports.

"The government of Canada must ensure that the Kielburgers are prevented from bidding on any student volunteer contracts provided by the Government of Canada," he said, referring to the brothers that run WE.


John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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