Climate Justice Saskatoon organized a Peoples Climate Plan Town Hall on May 25 in order to address Canada’s plan for climate action. In accordance with the federal government’s developing Climate Strategy Plan, our public servants are encouraged to attend such Town Halls across Canada in order to gather ideas for a sustainable future.
In Saskatoon, all MPs were invited to attend, yet MP Sheri Benson was the only representative who chose to attend. But the event was more for the people to gather and build a community for climate justice, particularly in need after the recent comments made by our Premier, Brad Wall.
Speech from the oil throne
The Sask Government’s throne speech on May 17 included the following words: “But it is troubling that today, there are some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality. There are those who are not comfortable with and even oppose much of what we produce in Saskatchewan and how we produce it – oil and gas, coal and uranium, livestock and grains.
They would prefer that those sectors did not exist and that the thousands of jobs in those sectors did not exist. They look at those jobs like they are somehow harming the country and the world.”
These troubling words sound very much like the denial of climate science; in response, Wall’s representatives said those words referred to the Leap Manifesto, which can only be presumed as a means to turn a document based on climate fact into a political issue with the NDP. In the end however, his words encouraged many to recognize the need to take real action in Saskatchewan: the Town Hall had people spilling out the doors—in the end there was standing room only with close to 200 in attendance.
In the days leading up to the Town Hall, one of the responses to the throne speech included Climate Justice Saskatoon’s open letter to the Premier. It’s important for people in Saskatchewan to get clear answers from the government on such direct questions as, “do you accept the scientific consensus that the earth is warming, that consequently the climate is changing in diverse and potentially devastating ways, and that this results primarily from human activity in the form of greenhouse gas emissions?” The letter gained well over 200 signatures from individuals, as well as several organizations within a few days, and is still accepting support. It also received media attention, where organizers rightfully questioned Wall’s lack of attention to reality.
It was telling to see that advocacy groups and individuals were the sole responders to this part of the throne speech—the NDP said nothing. In its way, the throne speech certainly demonstrated the need for a strong people’s climate justice stance. It is the only way our elected officials will take the necessary steps to confront climate change.
Green jobs and a just transition
One issue of particular frustration within the throne speech was the idea that the Wall government is protecting jobs. But if this government were truly looking out for the workers who will be affected by a transition to renewable energy, it would be supporting a just transition and not perpetuating a false lie around jobs versus the environment. The green economy produces six to nine times as many jobs if invested in clean energy and efficiency—and we’re already seeing this start to happen. Canada already employs more people in renewable energy than in the oilsands. In the US, there are more people working in solar energy alone than in coal. Cleantech now accounts for over 11 per cent of Germany’s thriving economy—and continues to grow there. And as of December 2014, employment in the Canadian clean energy sector was up 37 per cent to 23,700 people. That compares with 22,340 directly employed in the oil sands, and with recent layoffs, that number is much lower.
The other issue at hand is that the fossil fuel industry has not supported workers rights. The current energy system is not focused on meeting the needs of workers, communities or the environment—it’s about maximizing the profits of big corporations. Out of the top earning 50 companies is the world, 19 of them are fossil fuel based companies. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives completed a study which found that a $5 billion pipeline resulted in mostly short-term construction jobs, while permanent jobs are few due to the capital intensive nature of these industries—and we’re seeing this in action today. So while there is a draw for high wages in this sector, these positions are just not secure—for their families, or for our planet.
A Premier who truly supported workers and their jobs would choose the right policy tools in funding a just transition. These include ending fossil fuel subsidies, increasing resource royalties, higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people, and a progressive carbon tax holding to account those that created the climate crisis in the first place. Instead, Wall is one of the few who is in opposition to any carbon tax, and has a history of subsidizing the oil industry within Saskatchewan, while thousands are laid off with little support.
The issue of Jobs and Green Technology was one that was discussed at the Peoples Climate Plan Town Hall, alongside Mitigation, Carbon Pricing and Adaptation and Resilience. Small group discussions led to meaningful conversations around how to ensure Saskatchewan’s participation in climate action, and how to confront Wall’s regressive behaviour towards a sustainable future. The ideas brought forward were collected and will be sent to the federal government. Most importantly, the Town Hall gave opportunity to build greater alliances and therefore a stronger force within Saskatchewan. Clearly Wall does not speak for people in Saskatchewan when he questions the science of climate change.
Join the June 4 Toronto teach-in for the People’s Climate Plan.