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Throne speech recovery plan must be just, green and intersectional

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Construction workers fit solar panels. Image: Science in HD/Unsplash

2020 has been anything but normal.

We're in the midst of a devastating global pandemic. Pervasive, systemic racism -- particularly anti-Black and anti-Indigenous -- is unrelenting. And the climate crisis continues virtually unabated despite a major international economic downturn.

Many are naming this moment as an unprecedented "opportunity." But opportunity implies a choice; that we can choose to push for structural change -- or not. But we don't have a choice anymore. Change is inevitable. Normal has fallen apart, and one way or another, Canada will come out on the other side of this crisis a different country.

Let's make sure we emerge as a better country.

The decisions that are made now will have a lasting impact. We know that structural change is essential to ensure our collective wellbeing. And -- this is key -- there are no neutral stances on systemic injustice.

And so, as we recover from COVID-19, we need our leaders to decisively chart a course that addresses the health crisis, prejudice and inequity, and the climate crisis. 

We believe that the best path forward is built on a just, inclusive, green economy.

Reports suggest that Prime Minister Trudeau intends to put climate justice at the heart of the economic recovery plan that will be revealed in the September 23 throne speech. In a September 2 interview he said, "We have an opportunity to go green. We have an opportunity to be fairer, to reduce barriers for women's participation, [and] Indigenous participation in the workforce."

But beyond broad statements, what does this actually look like for Canada moving forward? As we pursue an inclusive, green recovery here are three important considerations:

1. The tremendous employment and economic potential of a green economy

Research by the International Labour Organization suggests that global decarbonization strategies will result in an initial loss of six million jobs, primarily in the traditional energy sector. But ultimately we can expect an additional 24 million new jobs in renewable energy generation, electric transportation and energy efficiency. What is more, the current pandemic has demonstrated a desperate need for investments in public health, education and long-term care. These are sectors that barely register in greenhouse gas emissions statistics and employ a disproportionate number of women, including racialized and immigrant women.

2. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on racialized women

As noted above, women -- including many racialized and immigrant women serving in long-term care facilities -- are overrepresented among health-care workers. They also often work alongside Indigenous women and women with disabilities in essential services sectors. Not only are women working in these professions at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19, they are also more likely to be precariously employed in low-wage jobs with few or no benefits. Add to this the disproportionate responsibility of women for childcare and the result is exacerbated risk of poverty and marginalization.

3. The exclusion of women and people of colour from the traditional energy sector and growth industries

The oil and gas industry tends to train and hire white, Canadian-born men. But this has also been the case for sectors set to grow in a green, decarbonized economy such as renewable energy, construction and public transportation This means that as we move away from the fossil fuel-based economy, women and other marginalized communities (whose work is often in service industries on the periphery of the extractive economy) will again be largely excluded from transition supports.

Moreover, research reveals that:

"racialized and Indigenous construction workers are 8 per cent and 12 per cent more likely, respectively, to be precariously employed than the average worker. [And] among full-year, full-time construction workers, Indigenous workers earn 7 per cent less than non-Indigenous workers, immigrants earn 11 per cent less than non-immigrants, women earn 17 per cent less than men, and racialized workers earn 19 per cent less than white workers."

The path forward therefore requires a deliberate, targeted approach. Canada needs a national decarbonization and just transition strategy that is grounded in a commitment to reduce Canadian GHG emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The development of this strategy must be done with the involvement of provinces and territories and the engagement of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, and others currently marginalized in the existing economy. It should include a strategic training fund to support workforce diversification by funding post-secondary training programs for populations historically marginalized from low-carbon growth industries like energy efficiency, technology, health care and renewable energy.

Recognizing that there will be challenges associated with reorienting our economy, this strategy must also include a federal just transition transfer to provinces and territories to support workers and the surrounding communities most directly impacted by the move away from fossil fuels.

We can emerge from this crisis as a more equitable society than the one that entered it -- a society grounded in an intersectional, feminist understanding of poverty, marginalization and structural oppression; a nation that honours the rights of Indigenous Peoples with the legislated implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and a country well on course to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Karri Munn-Venn is the senior policy analyst at Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ). Brad Wassink is CPJ's communications coordinator. Follow CPJ on Twitter @publicjustice.

Image: Science in HD/Unsplash

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