Call to action for Canada to act now to secure a just and livable future for all.
We at Toronto350 call on the Canadian government to follow through on its recent commitments to “build back better” and invest in a green recovery in the wake of COVID-19. This moment presents a critical opportunity to shift our course toward a better future. Either we plan to meet our Paris Agreement targets, and invest in the health and wellbeing of our communities, or we leave a legacy of defeat in an ever-warming future. As COVID-19 lays bare the appalling inequalities and injustices ever-present in Canadian society, our demands grow more urgent. Paying lip service to the issues that impact us is not enough. Dangerous climate warming leading to more extreme weather events; a growing socioeconomic gap; the rights of workers to sick leave and other basic entitlements; access to affordable and decent housing; respect for Indigenous sovereignty – these are just a few of the issues we face that are crucial to address. We cannot and will not return to the “old normal”- we know that building back better means prioritizing people before profit and investing in ways that safeguard the health and well-being of all.
We demand a Just Recovery from this pandemic that invests in workers and their communities, not wealthy elites and planet-destroying industries. Economic stimulus and COVID-19 recovery planning must mandate significantly strengthened environmental regulations and policies in the immediate term. Canada must play its part to limit global warming to under 1.5C. Policy prioritization must be given to low carbon transition incentives. This means strict rules for polluters, a higher carbon tax and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. It also means no more clear-cut logging. Any financial support must have green strings attached: a strict, zero-emissions condition. We must work with developing countries who will suffer the brunt of climate change to both lessen the impacts they will face and provide funding for the transition to net-zero, knowing they have contributed the least to the issue.
To truly build back better, we must invest in our hardest-hit communities. We know those most impacted by COVID -19 in Toronto were racialized communities and others marginalized in the current system. The federal government must work closely with provincial and municipal counterparts to ensure underserved communities receive equitable health supports and funding. Worker’s rights, including safe and fair labour standards and a right to unionize, must be strengthened. If workers get sick, they should feel empowered to protect themselves and their colleagues, not fearful of losing their jobs. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be adopted into domestic law; land and treaty rights must be respected. Funding must be diverted from police and prisons to mental health services and services to prevent gender-based violence. These actions are pivotal to shift our course away from the health, equality and environmental crises to an equitable and green recovery.
Canada took a major misstep with the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project (TMX). TMX started out with a cost of $5.4 billion and since then, the figure reported has ballooned to $13 billion. More recent projections suggest a number in the $25 billion range. In fact, we don’t actually know the cost of the project due to a lack of governmental transparency. COVID-19 followed the purchase of the TMX, knocking us right off our feet. To add insult to injury, oil prices in March dropped to their lowest since 2003, a result of both COVID-19 and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Now is the time to get back up and say no more to the sunset industry of fossil fuels, one that rakes in taxpayer money while killing our planet. Had we used the billions spent on TMX to fund programs like Catalysts 20/20, Iron and Earth and other clean energy companies instead, we would be closer to our climate targets. With a green recovery, we can implement a just transition that creates almost 600,000 jobs in the clean energy sector as well as move current oil and gas workers into low carbon work where their skills are easily transferable.
We have been told for too long that plans are being made, change is going to happen, and we have been let down time and time again. The excuse of a requisite transition period away from fossil fuels is disingenuous; COVID-19 has proven we have the will to act decisively when needed. The excuse of needing to protect the economy is tired and flimsy. Research supports the idea that green jobs have the ability to create 4 million non-construction roles in the next 30 years, and renewable energy options are cheaper than ever. Worse, despite the fact that knowledge of climate change has existed for forty years, government action has moved at a snail’s pace. And yet, an increasingly inhospitable environment will exacerbate every ill we face. We need to be better than these inactions and empty promises. We need bold resolve, and swift and powerful moves. We need to stop being afraid of change when change can bring us a better future. We need leadership with vision, one that understands that all of the threads of a Just Recovery and Just Transition are tied together.
A Just Recovery and Just Transition mean working toward the best representation of humanity. It means creating a future where the needs of the many matter more than the needs of a wealthy few. A future where Indigenous people, who have been stewards of this land for many millennia, are respected and meaningfully consulted. A future where those who have been on the outskirts of care can be uplifted and protected. There is hope, but only if our leaders are so bold as to imagine and enact this brighter future so many of us can see. Over 150 organizations signed on to the Just Recovery Principles, demanding that the Canadian government take these concerns seriously. This is a call to action to the Canadian government to hear these demands and take responsible action now to ensure we can all enjoy a brighter future.