Second reading of Bill C-50, Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act

By: The Hon. Diane Bellemare

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Hon. Diane Bellemare: Colleagues, I am delivering this speech from the unceded traditional territories of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.

Today I’ll be speaking in favour of Bill C-50 at second reading. The bill’s short title is the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act.

I have no objection to the principles of this bill. I feel that it’s a major bill and that we have to facilitate a labour market transition. However, I do have questions about some of the details. As they say, the devil is in the details. I hear that a lot.

Basically, Bill C-50 calls for the adoption of a sustainable jobs action plan. It also provides for the establishment of a sustainable jobs partnership council and a sustainable jobs secretariat to support the implementation of the act.

If the bill is passed, the sustainable jobs partnership council will be made up of 13 members. Its role will be to advise the minister responsible for implementing the act and other specified ministers. The bill does not specify the portfolios of these ministers, which ministers or their total number. The government will designate them later. The minister responsible must draw up an action plan by December 31, 2025, at the latest and must present a new plan at least every five years. These plans will be tabled in both houses of Parliament.

Bill C-50 provides very specific details about the content of the sustainable jobs action plan. It’s a green transition plan that focuses on a labour market response to climate change.

It goes without saying that I share the opinion of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Labour Congress, who support the adoption of a labour market transition plan. That is a principle no one can object to.

This is more about determining whether Bill C-50 will allow such a plan to be developed and implemented within a reasonable time frame with noticeable results in terms of sustainable jobs.

Let us also remember — because I will come back to this — that the EI system remains, in Canada and in every jurisdiction, the primary source of funding for public interventions in the labour market. It is essential to take into account the framework of governance of the action plan for sustainable jobs. That is essentially what my speech will focus on: the connection between Bill C-50 and employment insurance.

First, what is an action plan for ensuring a green transition in the labour market? An action plan for a green transition in the labour market stems above all from a plan to fight climate change, which depends directly on targets and strategies identified in that plan. We must take into account deadlines and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the means identified for achieving them.

In Canada, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, passed in 2020, provides the framework for setting targets and establishing methods, and the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, released in 2022, provides the roadmap for updating them. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is the one who reports to Parliament on emissions reduction.

The main components of this plan include carbon pricing, a cap on the oil and gas sector, a clean electricity standard, a clean fuel standard and reducing emissions associated with land use.

This ambitious plan is a society-wide plan that involves all provincial and territorial stakeholders. Implementing all these efforts to reduce greenhouse gases will inevitably impact the job market, hence the sustainable jobs bill, which aims to ease the job market transition for those affected.

Studies on the impact of the green transition on the labour market show that the success of these plans depends heavily on the workforce’s ability to carry them out. Labour organizations, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, and the businesses that make up the Canadian Chamber of Commerce are excited about the objectives of Bill C-50. They’re also aware that the success of the operation depends on the availability of a workforce with the proper skills.

A recent report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce entitled Building Canada’s Net-Zero Workforce states the following, and I quote:

A recent study scanning 48 countries found that only one in eight workers has the skills relevant to a net-zero economy. This research also concluded that there is a growing demand for workers with net-zero skills, but this demand is not being met by today’s labour force.

The Chamber of Commerce goes on to say the following about meeting the challenges associated with the fact that the workforce doesn’t have the proper skills, and this is important. It said, and I quote:

Leveraging the government’s existing relationships with trade unions and industry leaders in both the energy and resource sectors will be key to reskilling and training the workforce in these industries. This is particularly important given these sectors are likely to experience more acute labour challenges given they will need to modernize operations to meet low-carbon requirements — and as new industries emerge within a net-zero economy.

While trade unions have an important role in representing the interests of workers and advocating for decent jobs, they also have a unique role in building capacity through accessible training and upskilling. Efforts are already underway within trade unions to evaluate the scope and delivery of training programs for a variety of apprenticeships, and to incorporate net-zero skills and knowledge into career pathways.

We may owe you thanks, Senator Yussuff, since you may be the one who launched these union initiatives.

The green transition will create new jobs, but it will also transform existing jobs. This reality must not be ignored. A lot of occupations will experience a growing need for green skills, as highlighted by Céreq, the European centre for studies and research on qualifications. Céreq talks about a progressive greening of occupations, in other words, the inclusion of environmental concerns in all work-related activities, in all sectors.

The challenges posed by climate change compound the challenges inherent in technological advances, such as artificial intelligence, and demographic factors, such as an aging population and immigrant integration.

All of these changes will mean that some jobs will disappear while others will emerge, with a major impact on tasks.

Without question, gains in living standards among Canadians will be proportional to the success of the green transition and adaptation efforts.

This multi-faceted transition will require significant investments in workforce adaptation, skill upgrading and retraining, and income support for workers in the labour market. That’s where Natural Resources Canada’s Sustainable Jobs Plan comes in. Initiated primarily to deal with the natural resources sector, the Sustainable Jobs Plan will develop means and initiatives that will undoubtedly benefit other sectors of the economy, because the entire Canadian economy is affected by the accelerating changes in climate, technology and demographics.

As an aside, despite all these changes, the good news is that Canadians are acutely aware of the challenges ahead and want to improve their skills. Skills upgrading is the key to a successful transition. I’ve already mentioned a survey of 1,069 Canadians conducted by Nanos in December 2023, which I commissioned in my office. This survey was similar to the one I conducted prior to the pandemic, and provides an overview of Canadian perceptions of the anticipated impacts of climate and technological change on the job market, as well as the training needs that will be required to deal with them.

What does this survey tell us? It tells us that 20% of respondents who have jobs — in other words, 20% of employed Canadians — feel it is likely or somewhat likely that these changes will threaten their jobs. An even higher proportion, 37%, believe climate change and technology will affect their job tasks and require additional training. These are astronomical numbers. That last one, 37%, represents about eight million Canadians.

Canadians’ perceptions are consistent with the results of studies carried out by international organizations such as the OECD. Young Canadians are keenly aware of the challenges. Among 18- to 34-year-olds, 42% believe technological and climate change will affect their work tasks.

In response to that, Canadians, 9.6 million of them, are ready to get training. They want to upgrade their IT and professional skills in particular.

That being said, employment insurance — I’m coming back to the subject of EI and Bill C-50 — will continue to play a vital role in meeting the challenge of workforce development for Canada and the provinces. We all know that EI is funded exclusively by employer and employee contributions to the plan. This plan provides income support during the transition in the event of job loss, but it is also the main source of funding for training when workers transition to another job under agreements with the provinces.

EI funds industry committees and all sorts of partnership initiatives. In short, the EI system is the backbone of public intervention in the Canadian labour market.

In the documents that I consulted on funding for all the measures proposed under the action plan for sustainable jobs, EI is identified as one of the main funding sources.

EI does not fall within the reporting environment of Natural Resources Canada or Environment and Climate Change Canada. We have a serious issue with the way that this council and partnership operate.

The Sustainable Jobs Plan relies heavily on EI. However, in keeping with the principle of “no taxation without representation,” business and labour representatives must be associated with the Sustainable Jobs Plan, and they will be.

What concerns me, however, is obviously involving labour market players directly in decision-making through representatives of the most important workers’ and employers’ associations. These people need to be appointed in that capacity, not on an individual or personal basis. The bill doesn’t make this distinction. Simply being unionized is enough to get appointed to the council.

I want to reiterate that members of the sustainable jobs partnership council must be appointed based on the most representative workers’ and employers’ associations, and not on an individual or personal basis. That is missing in the bill. In addition, since the action plan will rely on EI, the commissioners of EI workers and employers must also sit on the council, given the importance of the plan in financing labour market transitions.

Canada’s major labour and employer associations have affirmed their commitment to meeting the labour and skills development challenges posed by climate, technological and demographic transitions. They reaffirmed this at the recent employment and skills forum that was held. Senator Yussuff and Senator Ross were there. That statement was very clear.

To sum up, an action plan for climate transition is essential, particularly with regard to the labour market. To this end, it is vital that labour and employer representatives from the major associations, as well as EI commissioners, be involved.

I hope the committee studying this bill will raise questions on these issues and on how this plan will be implemented as soon as possible. At the end of the day, climate change is already happening, and we can’t wait too long before making the necessary transitions.

I invite you to adopt this bill quickly at second reading so that it can be referred to committee. Thank you.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

The Hon. the Speaker: There are two senators who want to ask questions. Would you like to have more time since your time is up?

Senator Bellemare: Yes.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Cuzner: Would the honourable senator take a question?

Senator Bellemare: Absolutely.

Senator Cuzner: We know that change puts certain pressures on the workforce. With the invention of fences, many shepherds found themselves out of work. With the development of marine technology and navigational aids, lighthouse keepers had trouble finding jobs as well.

I was impressed that Senator Yussuff and the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities came to my Cape Breton community. Senator MacDonald and Senator Cordy can speak to this, but at one time in Cape Breton, coal was king. We had 6,000 coal miners at that time. I know they would have appreciated a program such as this.

Specifically, I know that your background is in labour. I believe that a tripartite approach to policy and program development is essential. Is the senator confident that we see that throughout the development of this legislation and, going forward, that a tripartite approach has been respected?

Senator Bellemare: Thank you for the important question, senator. I will reserve my answer until after the committee’s study. From what I know of tripartite best practices, this one differs a bit, especially in one respect — and this is the one that I underline — namely, that the employers and the workers do not necessarily come from associations that are the most representative. With tripartitism in society, you need to have the largest associations that are the most representative. You cannot have individual nominations. It is important that institutions are participating. This bill does not respect that characteristic.

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne: Senator Bellemare, would you agree to answer a question?

Senator Bellemare: Absolutely.

Senator Miville-Dechêne: I will pick up on what my colleague was saying. You’re from Quebec; you organized and participated in all sorts of forums on labour issues. How do you believe that an organization without a round table and where Quebec and Alberta are absent can function, given the importance of the provinces in labour matters?

Senator Bellemare: I have to say that, when the workforce is organized in such a manner, there is an indirect way for provinces to take part and that is through employer associations and labour organizations. It is through that channel that we would hear from them. It is through the most representative associations, whether they be the chambers of commerce in connection with the Quebec and Alberta chambers of commerce, or the Canadian Labour Congress in connection with the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec and with the Ontario and Alberta labour federations, that ties and connections are forged.

I’m not sure how to bring in the provinces at this point. However, the studies that I have conducted regarding EI made it very clear to me that the council must be mainly made up of representatives of labour market players who can communicate with the provinces. I will repeat that employer associations and labour organizations are niches and connections. Fortunately, the associations in these sectors don’t necessarily change positions all the time. The way the labour market works for unions and businesses intersects and doesn’t change with different government ideologies, because the goal is to create good jobs. That is why it’s a channel and a very good link to the provinces.

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