Conservative MPs' efforts to stall discussion on the sustainable jobs act have raised the ire of prominent labour leaders, who made it clear they will take action if the Conservatives continue with their delay tactics in committee.
If the Conservatives continue to filibuster the labour-backed Bill C-50, “we'll rally in the streets, we'll take them on in their ridings, we'll make sure workers visit them in their ridings … because they don't seem to be listening,” said Marty Warren, United Steelworkers national director for Canada, at a press conference in Ottawa on Nov. 2. As the situation unfolds, the steelworkers union and its members will make sure the Conservatives hear how their MPs ragging the puck is affecting workers’ lives, said Warren.
After two lengthy and unproductive meetings of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on Monday and Wednesday, NDP MP Charlie Angus held a press conference where he and five labour leaders called out what he described as “silly, vindictive and childish behaviour” by Conservative MPs “while jobs and our economic future is on the line.”
Angus worked closely with labour groups including the Canadian Labour Congress, Alberta Federation of Labour, International Union of Operating Engineers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and others to inform the legislation while it was being drafted.
The sustainable jobs act was first promised by the Liberal government in 2019 and was finally tabled this June where labour unions stood shoulder-to-shoulder to endorse the bill. Bill C-50 was then referred to the standing committee after a vote in the House of Commons — the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois voted against it, but it passed with support from Liberal, NDP and Green Party MPs. It's the committee’s job to study the bill and make amendments so it can continue its journey through the House and then the Senate to eventually become law.
But the Standing Committee on Natural Resources’ meetings held on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1 were plagued with seemingly endless points of order, crosstalk and many monologues by Conservative MPs. Typically, committee meetings are scheduled to last two hours, though they sometimes run longer. These two meetings ran more than three times longer.
“We will be connecting with the three million Canadian workers who are under the umbrella of the [Canadian Labour Congress] to make sure that they know why this legislation is being held up and who's to blame for this,” said Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Canada’s largest labour organization.
At the heart of the delays appears to be a disagreement about what order two pieces of legislation should be studied. Conservative shadow minister of natural resources Shannon Stubbs’ opposed a Liberal motion proposing Bill C-50 and Bill C-49 — a more complex bill related to offshore wind development in Atlantic Canada — be examined at the same time, saying C-49 should be dealt with first because it passed second reading six days before C-50.
“The NDP-Liberals attempted to dictate every term and timing of the schedule they want to impose on our committee while claiming with straight faces that they aim to collaborate!” Stubbs wrote in an emailed statement to Canada’s National Observer. Her statement said the NDP and Liberals have been “trying to block and shut down the participation” of Conservative MPs on the committee.
Stubbs wants to see C-49 studied first, both because of the order in which the bills were introduced and because of its impact on offshore petroleum development and offshore renewable development in Atlantic Canada and its references to Bill C-69, which Conservatives dubbed the “no more pipelines act.” The Supreme Court recently ruled the federal law to regulate major development projects is “largely unconstitutional” because the language of the Impact Assessment Act was too broad, though the ruling noted the federal government does have the power to do environmental assessments. Because of this, parts of C-69 will have to be rewritten.
Angus told reporters he tried reaching out to the Conservatives but said they keep bringing forward motions that have nothing to do with the business at hand to block discussion on the sustainable jobs act.
“We’ll deal with your motions,” he said, “But right now, the rules in Parliament is that when legislation is referred to committee, all the work in committee is interrupted to deal with legislation. That's our job as legislators.”
Having spent the last 19 years in opposition, Angus is used to not getting his way, he added.
However, “when legislation comes, our job is to deal with legislation from the government, whether we like it or not,” he said. The Conservatives are trying to impede the long-awaited legislation, which went through all the proper channels and passed its first vote in the House of Commons, he said. “It's our job to get this job done.”
While the United States is seeing “hyper investments in clean tech” Canada is sitting on the sidelines and federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is “deliberately trying to undermine the future of Canadian workers and the Canadian economy in the midst of the biggest economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution,” said Angus.
Liberal MP John Aldag, former chair of the natural resources committee and now a committee member, told Canada’s National Observer it would make sense to get the far simpler, 11-page sustainable jobs act moving through the House first because it will take longer to work through what the implications of the more complex Bill C-49 are. The committee has also already done some work on the clean energy transition, making it easier to move forward with C-50, Aldag added.
“There is no willingness being demonstrated to have discussion in or out of committee on how to get to a point where we can move forward on this,” said Aldag.
On Nov. 2, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson described the last few committee meetings as a “circus act” and called on the Conservative Party of Canada to “be serious about the work of Parliament” and engage in a conversation so things can move forward.
Poilievre and his Conservative Party, along with Alberta’s United Conservative Premier Danielle Smith, say Bill C-50 is a blueprint to phase out oil and gas — something the bill does not purport to do. What it actually does is require the government to publish sustainable job action plans every five years and create a sustainable job partnership council to advise the government and ensure workers have the opportunity to contribute to the plans. In short, it is designed to give workers a permanent seat at the table and an ongoing say in the plans.
Despite Poilievre’s claims his party is pro-worker, “this is a party that is hell-bent on denying workers a seat at the table, to have influence on their own future,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), at the Nov. 2 press conference. “That's the real Conservative Party.
“Why would a worker give support to a party that is denying those very workers a seat at the table to have influence on the future of their jobs and the economy in which they live?” McGowan asked.
Like Bruske and Warren, he said if the Conservatives keep blocking the legislation, the AFL will “unmask this party for what they really are. And that's an anti-worker party.”
Wilkinson, who described himself as “probably one of the least partisan members in this chamber,” weighed in later that day.
“I ran for office after being in the business community for a long time,” said Wilkinson, who previously worked in clean tech. “And I came to this place to actually do work and to get things done. This kind of stuff is just a joke. It’s ridiculous.”
He added that if Canadians attended these committee meetings, “they would be appalled at the work that is not being done in this place.”
Over the last year, the committee held over 56 meetings with 133 witnesses and 120 hours of hearings on issues of the clean energy transition, “and all that time, not one Conservative member ever brought forward a worker to speak on what the transition means,” said Angus at the press conference. While the NDP invited coal workers to testify about their industry’s transition, the Conservatives “interfered, undermined, used Gong Show tactics, petty whining and continual interference to derail the voice of workers who are living the energy transition now,” he said.
This is a persistent pattern, Angus said, citing a Sept. 22, 2022 meeting where witnesses from the Carpenters' District Council of Ontario, the International Trade Union Confederation and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs were not asked a single question because of Conservative delay tactics.
“We need to get serious about this and the Tories clearly are not serious about this,” said Bruske.
Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer