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Labour, environment groups make plea for Liberals' sustainable jobs bill to pass

OTTAWA — A dozen environment groups and labour organizations are pleading with the Liberal government to end a political stalemate over its forthcoming sustainable jobs bill.
Environmental groups and labour organizations are pleading with the federal government to end a political stalemate over its forthcoming sustainable jobs bill. A wind turbine is shown at a wind farm near Pincher Creek, Alta., Wednesday, March 9, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

OTTAWA — A dozen environment groups and labour organizations are pleading with the Liberal government to end a political stalemate over its forthcoming sustainable jobs bill.

Aliénor Rougeot, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence, said the government keeps saying Bill C-50 is a priority but has not moved to get it back onto the floor of the House of Commons for a final vote.

"It needs to pass now," said Rougeot.

Environmental Defence and the Canadian Labour Congress joined 10 other environment and labour organizations Monday in writing to the government to express their hope the government will make the bill a priority.

The pending legislation is largely bureaucratic. It would require the government to establish five-year plans and an advisory council to help workers in industries affected by the clean-tech transition prepare for the new skills and job requirements that are coming.

The government introduced an interim plan last year that promised training programs and better data on the current and future expectations for Canadian energy jobs. 

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson insists the bill is there to force the federal government to create and protect jobs, not kill them, and to give workers in affected industries confidence they have a future.

The CEOs of some of Canada's biggest oilsands companies said last year that in their commitment to decarbonizing their production sites, their fear isn't being shut down by a so-called just transition plan, but by a labour shortage.

They estimated they'd create 35,000 jobs to meet their sustainability goals by 2050, and their biggest worry is not having enough trained workers to fill them.

But the bill has been mired in political controversy, seen by the Alberta government and federal Conservatives as a Liberal attempt to shutter oil and gas entirely in favour of renewable energy.

The bill passed second reading in the House in October, with the Conservatives voting against. 

Natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs said that month it was a "top-down central five-year planning approach that will immediately destroy 170,000 jobs in the oil and gas sector."

And when the bill moved to a committee so MPs could hear from witnesses with a stake in the issue, Tories did everything they could to keep it from moving on. 

For 27.5 hours over six weeks, they filibustered the committee hearings until the Liberals moved a motion in the House of Commons to force the committee to bring its study of the bill to an end.

The filibuster included proposing nearly 20,000 amendments to a bill that is just 18 pages long, including the cover page. 

When the bill was put on notice to return to the House, the Conservatives proposed 205 more amendments. 

It could have spurred another marathon overnight voting session, just days after the Conservatives triggered a different 30-hour voting marathon on the government's spending plans.

The Liberals reacted by taking the bill off the order paper entirely, with then-House leader Karina Gould saying she was putting the Conservatives in a "time out."

But the government did not put the bill back on its agenda when the house sat for three weeks in January and February.

House Leader Steven MacKinnon, who is replacing Gould temporarily while she is on maternity leave, moved Monday to pre-empt a repeat voting marathon by moving a motion that would prevent the House from sitting between midnight and 9 a.m.

MacKinnon said C-50 is among the reasons the motion is necessary, but would not commit to when the government will bring it back up for debate.

"That is part of a long line of legislation that we want to make progress on, and we're hoping that this motion helps," he said.

Rougeot said if the bill doesn't pass soon, the timelines for creating the first work plan and the advisory body will be nearly impossible to meet with the proper consultation required with workers. 

She also acknowledged a fear that if the bill and its components aren't well-established before the next election and the Conservatives win, it will be far easier to undo any progress.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press