October 16, 2017

By Scott McFatridge, Mercedes Marcano and Jordann Thirgood

Our previous blog post gave an overview of the challenges and opportunities we’re likely to see as Ontario transitions to a green economy. In this post, we focus on solutions--taken from our new report on Decent Work in the Green Economy.


Tackling the challenges posed by transitioning to a green economy will require a smart combination of universal programs and targeted measures to assist vulnerable workers. To make the most of Ontario’s green transition, governments, employers, unions and non-profit organizations should work together to develop a comprehensive “Just Transition Strategy” that addresses decent work considerations at all stages.

Policymakers should consider incorporating seven key components into this strategy:

1. Build worker considerations into green transition policies and programs

A key starting point in developing a Just Transition Strategy is to consider worker implications in the design stage of policies and programs intended to transition the province to a green economy. Programs and policies should be designed to address employment impacts at the outset, rather than as an afterthought.

2. Consider the green transition in broader social supports

Just as the worker experience should be considered in programs that facilitate a green transition, the green transition’s anticipated impacts should be considered in the development of programs and policies for supporting workers more broadly.

Social programs should ensure a minimum floor of security for Ontarians as they move between jobs, re-train for their current job or return to school. This includes increasing the universality of programs such as pharma care coverage and affordable childcare, as well as rethinking existing worker support programs. These can help alleviate financial pressures and stresses associated with precarious work and job churn, and ease the transition to the green economy.

Over the longer term, more transformative social policy measures could be considered as well, such as generously increasing the working income tax benefit or replicating approaches such as Denmark’s “flexicurity” model - which strikes a unique balance of flexible hiring and firing, active labour market policy and generous income supports.

3. Focus efforts on workforce development

An emphasis on education, training and skills development – through formal education as well as apprenticeships and other experiential learning programs - will be critical given the likely changes in skills demands through the green transition.

For those already participating in the labour market, re-training will be an important piece of the puzzle to ensure that the workforce is ready. However, focusing exclusively on existing workforce re-training may perpetuate issues of inequity and lack of diversity in some sectors, so efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in growth sectors would be valuable.

4. Address gaps through a dedicated Just Transition Fund

A key feature of a Just Transition Strategy would be distributing funds to support individuals, industries and communities to assist those negatively impacted by a green transition (although this should be less of a problem in Ontario specifically). Funds could be transferred in a number of ways, including directly to communities facing disproportionate job loss, to universities or colleges preparing the workforce through specialized programming, or to service providers carrying out re-training programs.

5. Leverage public procurement and spending power

Ontario’s provincial and local governments purchased more than $49 billion in goods and services in 2015, and the Government of Ontario is investing $190 billion in infrastructure (including low carbon infrastructure) from 2014-2026. It is also channelling over $375 million from carbon market proceeds into initiatives to help households, businesses and the public sector reduce their GHG emissions. These are enormous expenditures for leveraging towards green economy and decent work agendas.

There are also a number of promising initiatives in North America that channel public funds into projects specifically mandated to benefit local communities through legal or aspirational agreements, such as the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit Community Benefits Framework (see Case study 4 in the report).

6. Strive for better, more granular and more frequent data collection.

Consistently measuring, tracking and forecasting employment and GDP in the green economy would provide policymakers with a better understanding of growth opportunities, job security and wages. Governments and social scientists also need to improve outcomes by collecting more granular data on participation from disadvantaged communities in these green economy sectors. Finally, more robust research on the linkages between environmental policies and overall employment outcomes is also necessary.

7. Engagement and dialogue

Establishing mechanisms for regular dialogue and consultation with various groups will be integral to a Just Transition Strategy. No effort to ensure decent work in the green economy will be successful without meaningfully engaging workers who are directly impacted by the transition, as well as employers and industry to understand the changing employment landscape.

Bringing it all together

A multi-pronged Just Transition Strategy can help navigate some of the potentially far-reaching impacts of the green transition, ensuring that the opportunities created by a green economy are equitable and inclusive. To drive it home one last time: Ontario must make its green transition a triple win - one that offers social, economic and environmental opportunities across the province.

To learn more about these findings and policy recommendations, read our new report on Decent Work in the Green Economy.