Policymakers and Labour Representatives: Some thoughts on Toronto’s Green Economy

In the Green Gap Project, we are connecting with organizations and individuals spanning across the green jobs sector. These include 6 key stakeholder groups: green business leaders; green energy and green jobs policy informants; labour organization and trade union representatives; and green job training program organizers. The final two groups are green job seekers who are members of diverse racialized communities: one group representing those with post-secondary degrees and specialized training in green jobs, and a second group representing those without advanced qualifications. Including this span of perspectives is important to understanding how a green economy might impact people differently, depending on the focus of their current and/or sought-after line of work.

To date, 45 participants representing diverse interests from across the 6 stakeholder groups have taken part in an interview. We are currently making our way through the final stakeholder group to be interviewed. In winter of 2015, we plan to conduct mixed-stakeholder focus groups exploring the most salient themes from the interviews.

Whose views are represented here?

Preliminary data analysis of the policymaker and labour/union representative groups has been completed, and we’ve provided a summary comparing and contrasting some of the interesting findings here. These groups comprise the following representatives:

Policy Group

Labour Group

This group includes:

  • Toronto city council staff
  • Representatives from arms-length municipal government agencies
  • Charitable and not-for-profit organizations who do policy advocacy work at the municipal level
This group includes:

  • Union representatives from energy organizations
  • Representatives from labour organizations that do work at the municipal level
  • Representatives from dual-focus labour and environmental non-profits

What are some of the interesting findings, so far?

Definitions of a green economy

  • Both groups mentioned that a green economy looks different to different stakeholders; they gave a wide variety of interpretations and definitions of green economy and green jobs. Some definitions emphasized the need to focus on the overall outcome/goal of a project, and to include all jobs contributing to this outcome as “green”, while others included only those directly involved in the “green” aspect of the job itself (e.g. a solar panel installer is a green job, but an accountant for that solar panel firm is not). Definitions also varied widely in terms of their emphasis on environment, economy and/or social outcomes. For example, one stakeholder saw public libraries as an important part of the green economy, for their role in “renewing” individuals and empowering them to make informed, environmentally sustainable choices.
  • This lack of a shared definition has important implications for how the success of green jobs is measured, and toward what goals a green economy will move. Without a broadly understood vision and understanding, it is unclear whether Toronto’s green economy will move toward a more sustainable economy in line with social justice, or a green economy that largely reproduces existing inequities and inequalities by focusing too heavily on market needs and/or technocratic solutions.
  • It was mentioned that a green economy may also be perceived differently by different groups in society, particularly those who do not identify with the predominantly White, upper-middle classes. Thus, it was recognized that self-awareness and the need for understanding one’s own limited frames through which they see the world, are both highly important. This helps avoid a deficit perspective  (i.e. seeing a struggling person as lacking something and needing help, rather than questioning the system that has oppressed them) when approaching solutions to race-related issues of inequity.

Impact of green jobs on racialized communities

  • There is much evidence of the notable income and employment gap between racialized and non-racialized Torontonians, which is one of the central motivations for this project. In part triggered by deindustrialization (i.e. the loss of manufacturing jobs as many companies offshore their operations to overseas companies) and a restructuring of the economy that has seen a rise in precarious employment (Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario, 2013), the poverty rate in Toronto has increased from 16.3% in 1990 to 28.8% in 2009 (compared to 19.5% across Canada) (Toronto Community Foundation, 2011; United Way, 2007). A disproportionate number of this underclass population are racialized Canadians and immigrants. As one report illuminates, “city-level data indicate that members of racialized groups are disproportionately more likely than other Canadians to be unemployed or precariously employed, employed in low-wage sector, earn less, and face poverty” (Access Alliance, 2011, p.3). Many work at jobs that pay less than a living wage and so consign them to the ranks of the working poor, a category with up to 25% of the workforce in some Toronto Census tracts. In Toronto, 73% of the working poor are immigrants – a category that is highly racialized (Stapleton et al., 2012).
  • As a whole, the Labour group was overwhelmingly more prone to directly mention race and ethnicity in their discussions of the green economy. For half of the participants in this group, racial disparities in the workforce are a central motivation for their work. Stakeholders in this group spoke openly about systemic racism being a reality that is pervaded through subtle actions, such as: hiring practices where employers hire those who are like them; “equity” intiatives that aim to bring marginalized workers into blue collar jobs but less so into white-collar positions; workplace cultures that are less welcoming to people from racialized backgrounds; and a prejudice against different worldviews (e.g. equating speaking loudly and confidently with job competency, which excludes many racialized people, especially women). Such cultural prejudices are not purported to be intentional; rather, they often go unrecognized at any conscious level. 
  • The Policy group, on the other hand, were much more likely to refer to “equity” more broadly (encompassing gender, age, ability and other considerations), while as a group, they tended less toward directly mentioning how race and ethnic considerations play a role in Toronto’s green economy. It is important to note, however, that there were important intragroup differences on how this topic was addressed among the policy stakeholders. One policy stakeholder explicitly stated their disappointment that the green economy and issues of equity have so far not been linked at the policy level; rather, they are treated as separate and ultimately unrelated issues.

Solutions to move the green agenda forward

  • Both groups spoke to the City of Toronto and the province of Ontario as a “leader” in environmental policy.
  • Labour stakeholders, on the whole, spoke more to processes and systems that limit certain social groups from engaging with the green economy, while Policy stakeholders spoke more generally about ways to help integrate these individuals (though, again, there were important intragroup differences on this topic among the policy stakeholders).
  • In terms of energy policy considerations, Labour representatives expressed much more concern around the privatization of energy that was promoted by the Green Energy Act (GEA, 2009), and the importance of energy remaining as a public asset. Policy stakeholders spoke more to where the GEA had fallen short in terms of supporting long-term development of locally-procured renewable energy systems in Ontario. Both groups spoke to a lack of full government and public support of the GEA, and to its loss of momentum since the World Trade Organization ruling this year (limiting the local procurement requirements of the GEA), and also with current more conservative governments at the federal and municipal level.
  • The Labour group, perhaps unsurprisingly, tied their thoughts around energy systems more directly to the job market (i.e. how streamlining operations of energy companies will lead to loss of management jobs, how free trade related to energy neglects equity concerns, and how energy conservation policy may create tension in terms of jobs related to energy production). The Policy group spoke more to energy as it relates to financial considerations (e.g. building more energy efficient buildings to save on the costs of energy).

 

References

Access Alliance. (2011). Working Rough, Living Poor: Employment and Income Insecurities faced by Racialized Groups and their Impacts on Health. Available at: http://accessalliance.ca/sites/accessalliance/files/documents/Access%20Alliance_Working%20Rough%20Living%20Poor%20Final%20Report%20June%202011.pdf

Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO). (2013). It’s More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being. Available at: http://pepsouwt.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/its-more-than-poverty-feb-2013.pdf

Stapleton, J., Murphy, B. & Xing, Y. (2012). The Working Poor in the Toronto Region: Who they are, where they live, and how trends are changing. Metcalf Foundation. Available at: http://metcalffoundation.com/publications-resources/view/the-working-poor-in-the-toronto-region-who-they-are-where-they-live-and-how-trends-are-changing-2/

Toronto Community Foundation. (2011). Toronto Vital Signs 2011: Full report. Toronto, ON, Canada. Available at: http://www.tcf.ca/vitalinitiatives/vitalsigns.html

United Way of Greater Toronto & Canadian Council on Social Development. (2007). Poverty by Postal code: The geography of neighbourhood poverty 1981-2001. Toronto, ON, Canada: United Way of Greater Toronto.

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