Canada needs national energy policy to go truly green

A new study warns Canada needs to create a comprehensive national energy policy, rather than rely on a private market-driven one, to mitigate climate change and build a strong economy based on green technologies.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has just published the study — Climate Change and the Canadian Energy Sector: Implications for Labour and Trade Unions — co-authored by two Simon Fraser University professors.

John Calvert, a public policy analyst, and Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a political economist, argue the energy sector’s claims that movement from dirty to clean, renewable energy production is stimulating the economy are exaggerated.

Based on their examination of employment trends in Canada’s energy sector and future labour needs in renewable industries, the researchers say current public planning is complicating environmental and labour problems.

Their study finds new production in renewable industries such as wind and solar is more labour-intensive than in existing electricity production. But these jobs tend to be poorly paid and temporary, mainly because electricity generation is shifting to the private sector, rather than occurring in public utilities.

“Current public planning,” notes Calvert, “focuses on delivering outcomes that the energy industry wants, which reinforces reliance on traditional energy employment rather than training a green workforce to address long term climate change improvements.”

“While the renewable energy sector is likely to grow considerably by 2020, it’s job creation potential is relatively small,” adds Griffin Cohen. “Most permanent jobs related to green energy are created through the manufacturing of green technology.  Without a national policy, we’re losing the employment potential of renewable energy expansion because we need Canadian-based manufacturing to be more involved.”

Calvert and Griffin Cohen argue Canada needs a strategy in which government takes a much stronger role in shaping the country’s energy future than it does now. The duo conclude only then will Canada create new truly green technologies that mitigate climate change and create long term, well paying jobs.

“Our findings indicate that Canada’s employment growth in the oil and gas sector, despite the green washing that occurs, reflects an increase in non-conventional types of fossil fuel production. These include tar sands, shale and tight gas,” explains Calvert.

Griffin Cohen adds: “These extraction methods tend to be environmentally even more problematic than conventional oil and gas production. The resulting jobs are similar to those that have been created in the past. They are short-term construction jobs, usually through non-union projects.”

The authors also examine the role of organized labour in advancing green jobs in the energy sector. They conclude the federal and provincial governments are ignoring trade unions as significant players in developing policies that expand green employment and ensure such jobs are decent.

October 25, 2011


John Calvert, 604.255.6601 (best contact), 778.782.8163, 604.812.4703 (cell),
Marjorie Griffin Cohen, 604.294.2134 (best contact), 778.782.5838, 778.772.2339 (cell),
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,