As Ottawa seeks to reach net zero emissions by 2050, its strategy to transition the workforce towards “sustainable jobs” in a low-carbon economy has been met with criticism from analysts due to its top-down approach and departure from traditional market-based economics. On Feb. 17, the federal government released its interim Sustainable Jobs Plan for 2023 to 2025. The government defines a job as “sustainable” if it is “compatible with Canada’s path to a net-zero emissions and climate resilient future.” Carleton University business professor Ian Lee has expressed concern about the feds’ approach, noting that “centralized planning collapses under its own weight” and stifles innovation and healthy market forces. Ottawa plans to establish sustainable jobs legislation this year, with action plans to be implemented every five years starting in 2025. This will require a massive body of public servants to evaluate every company, every employer, and every job to determine if it is indeed sustainable. The government has also created a secretariat and a partnership council to oversee the transition and coordinate among numerous stakeholders.
Critics have raised doubts about the quality and pay of the proposed “sustainable jobs” and whether they will be able to replace the six-figure salaries of the oil and gas industry. Renaud Brossard of the Montreal Economic Institute believes that “these are going to be subsidized jobs that Ottawa favours instead of market-based.” Dan McTeague of Canadians for Affordable Energy has warned of “ideological drive to shut down an industry” and the potential for towns and villages to become impoverished. Ottawa claims that labour shortages will be created due to the abundance of green jobs, while a 2022 federal report warns of the impact on oil and gas workers from the climate change policy. Alberta premier Danielle Smith has called Ottawa’s jobs transition plan an “unconstitutional and existential threat to the Alberta economy,” and federal Conservatives leader Pierre Poilievre has backed Smith’s view.
Despite the controversy, Ottawa maintains that the term “sustainable jobs” is “more inclusive and indeed more accurate for Canada than terms like ‘just transition.’” Lee believes that the wealthiest countries do not use top-down, “coercive” approaches to managing their workforces, and that Ottawa is making a mistake in going down this road to achieve their goals.