‘What’s your green jobs plan?’ coalition asks parties

Published in The Tyee | March 20, 2013 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly readers

As the provincial election campaign churns ahead, a new coalition of businesses, unions and environmental groups are hoping to change the conversation.

The GreenJobsBC campaign is calling on all political parties to outline their plan for transitioning to an economy that offers both sustainability and decent jobs.

From construction to biotech, businesspeople are adding their voices, including Julie Levy, co-founder and retired CEO of Vancouver-based biotechnology firm QLT.

“Once you see the evidence for global warming — and you look at consumption and the way we live in the more developed countries — you realize this is completely unsustainable,” Levy told The Tyee. “I think governments are scared of raising the ire of existing infrastructure and powers; they’re timid about it because Canada is a resource-based country.

“There’s a huge reluctance because of the financial interest there is in the oil scene. People making a lot of money in it are not very happy about thought of changing, and they’re very powerful… I have children and grandchildren, and I look at the future with a grimness. Unless we change how we live our lives, we’re in for a bad time.”

For B.C.’s campaigner for Organizing for Change, a coalition of environmental groups backed by Tides Canada foundation, the aim is to get green jobs commitments and plans from all the major election parties. Lisa Matthaus told The Tyee that showing endorsements from the business, labour and nonprofit sectors will boost GreenJobsBC’s impact.

“It says to the parties: ‘If you commit to something positive in creating green jobs and a low-carbon economy for the future, these are the folks who will take that positively.'”

None of the parties have yet responded to the campaign’s open letter, although both major parties state their support for aspects of sustainability and employment.

For example, the BC Liberals are resting their campaign on three pillars: creating competitive jobs in the private sector; putting families first through policies that promote the environment, affordability, health, and safety; and government transparency.

For their rivals the New Democrats, the platform includes what the party calls “a vision” based on goals of “a healthy environment and a decent, just and sustainable society,” according to the NDP’s website.

According to Globe Advisors — a nonprofit agency the province commissions to report annually on the “green economy” — that emerging sector made up more than 10 per cent of B.C.’s total gross domestic product in 2008, and that number has grown since.

Jobs in B.C.’s green sector (at least 80,000 according to Globe’s most recent study) have jumped between two to three times the rate of the total workforce in the past decade, and could top 200,000 by 2020.

The president of one of B.C.’s largest unions, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) told The Tyee that the old argument of jobs-versus-environment is a myth that is shattered by examples such as high employment rates in fields like retrofitting to reduce energy use, the production of alternative energy, and investments in public transit.

“Rather than fighting each other, like in the ‘war in the woods,’ we’ve started to find where we have have things in common,” Darryl Walker explained. “We worry about our economy.

“Climate change is probably going to hurt the economy down the road if we continue to have catastrophic events. Was [Superstorm] Sandy a one-off storm, or an example of what climate change has gotten us to? We can’t close our eyes and ears to one thing, and think we’ll worry about that when our economy’s up and running. We can maintain a strong economy and take care of climate change and carbon emissions.”

For Walker, though many of the province’s best-paying jobs are unionized, the BCGEU’s endorsement — along with several other major unions — doesn’t imply a green job strategy only involves organized labour. The key is long-term, quality work which pays a “liveable wage,” he said.

“Climate change is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” he added. “And while we’re dealing with that, we believe we can create green jobs — jobs that pay decent living wages, where we think it’s a win-win for the economy and the environment.”

Whether it involves investing money into boosting B.C.’s production of wind power, boosting transportation funding, or recycling construction materials to avoid landfills, the GreenJobsBC campaign wants all the political parties competing for seats to step forward with concrete strategies for sustainable jobs.

Another business that has joined the growing list of backers is Concert Properties CEO David Podmore, who said in a statement that the campaign coincides with his firm’s “long-term investments” in the province.

“Fighting and adapting to climate change, and safeguarding our industries and communities, require a similarly bold and long-term investment strategy,” the real estate developer stated. “A green jobs plan for B.C. is a good place to start.”

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