Most Canadians don't know about Trudeau's 'just transition,' says poll

Despite the topic having circulated in Canadian politics for years, a whopping 84% of Canadians do not know what 'just transition' means.

Most Canadians don't know about Trudeau's 'just transition,' says poll
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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A new poll uncovered that most Canadians are oblivious to Justin Trudeau's "just transition." But over half believe Ottawa will fail to replace conventional oil and gas employment with a low-carbon alternative. 

According to a new Postmedia-Leger poll, 60% of Canadians want the feds and provinces to make significant changes before larger global polluters seriously reduce carbon emissions.

Last election, the Trudeau Liberals committed to establishing a $2 billion futures fund to support resource-rich provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan "grow new job opportunities" in green energy as Canada moves to reduce emissions.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said their "just transition" bill, expected early this year, would create "sustainable" jobs.

The federal government released its long-promised plan Friday to transition to a low-carbon economy that claims will not prompt massive unemployment in the country's energy towns.

The 32-page plan claims it will "create so many jobs there may not be enough workers to fill them" through training and retraining programs.

It also claims that Canadians must 'accept' that demand for oil and gas will drop sharply.

Wilkinson added that the "just transition" bill would be secondary to the action plan and would likely become public by the end of March, though it may "slip into the next quarter."

Despite the topic having circulated in Canadian politics for years, a whopping 84% of Canadians do not know what "just transition" means.

Leger's executive vice-president for central Canada, Andrew Enns, said the poll results suggest the Trudeau Liberals have "a lot of work to do" in communicating the plan — and convincing Canadians it'll work.

"It's a pretty big policy initiative in terms of a fairly transformative change of what our Canadian economy has been based on — for probably since we became a country — in terms of natural resource extraction," said Enns.

Despite widespread ignorance of the plan to transition towards a greener economy, it has caused a significant ripple in Alberta politics.

After Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced the plan would be coming in 2023, the Alberta government pounced. Premier Danielle Smith accused the Liberals of plotting to wipe out the entire sector.

The "just transition" emerged from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a divisive international climate change treaty that advocated economies move from high-carbon industries to green economies.

"To use that terminology, they're virtue signalling to an extreme base that openly advocates shutting down oil or natural gas," said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. 

"We will not be shutting down our oil and natural gas industry. We will not be transitioning our workers in good, high-paying meaningful, important jobs into installing solar panels."

"Alberta is a province that makes money," said Smith, who learned the Trudeau Liberals could eliminate up to 2.7 million jobs nationwide across the energy, agriculture, construction and transportation sectors through a leaked federal memo.

It claimed that Canadians who lost their employment via climate change programs "can always get jobs as janitors" while adding that "some green jobs will not require workers with green skills."

In January, Alberta's Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley also called on the Trudeau Liberals to scrap the proposal. 

"We have a document that, by its admission, is talking about making changes that will significantly disrupt a sector that employs hundreds of thousands of people, the majority of whom are in Alberta," said Notley.

"My view is the federal government has to put the brakes completely on its legislative plans for this spring concerning the sustainable jobs legislation, as well as plans for the emissions cap," she said on CBC's West Of Centre podcast.

According to the poll, Albertans are far more likely to have heard of the "just transition" than other provinces. 

Compared to 19% in British Columbia and 15% in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, nearly one-third (32%) of Albertans have heard of the "just transition" and what it would mean for their province.

Allied Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also condemned the push for a greener economy at the expense of regional staple industries.

Enns said that Smith and Moe "weighed in pretty vigorously" on their perspective, resulting in greater awareness in those two regions.

Less than one in six Ontarians (15%) and 10% of Quebecers know what a 'just transition' is, alongside a measly 7% of Canadians in Atlantic Canada.

Of the 16% of Canadians who have heard of the just transition plan, 36% believe it will lead to permanent job loss, while 32% think it's unequivocally "anti-Alberta."

Of all Canadians, Quebecers are the least likely (9%) to perceive the plan as anti-Alberta, compared to nearly half (46%) of Albertans.

The poll also said the "goal [of the plan] is to prepare the Canadian workforce to participate in a low-carbon economy," which 52% believe is the right approach.

The plan is widely supported among Quebecers (63%), British Columbians (57%) and Ontarians (52%), while Albertans (39%), Saskatchewanians and Manitobans (38%) reciprocated that support less so.

"Canadians do take note of climate change. It is an issue for them, so… they want to see some action in that area. So to that degree, they're willing to see where this goes," said Enns. 

While Enns said this marks the opportunity for the federal government to combat climate change and transition the economy, the poll revealed considerable skepticism about whether they can accomplish their aim.

"I think there is a general wariness about promises from the government regarding job creation, job security and those sorts of things. Some lots have been let down."

Fifty-six percent of Canadians are "not confident" the government will be able to deliver, and 26% of those people are "not at all confident." Only 4% of those respondents are "very confident" the plan will go as proposed.

However, about one-quarter (22%) of Canadians think the government needs to move faster in transitioning the economy. 

However, most Canadians (60%) want to avoid paying additional taxes to support the transition, while a mere 14% would willingly pay one or two percent more.


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