When you listen to people like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describing the shimmering emerald-green economy to which they are leading us, you can practically smell the milk and honey wafting over Jordan. So who needs some boring old Auditor General going um guys it’s all just rock and sand in every direction? Alas, it turns out we do, because once again the people who have consistently boasted of the promised land just ahead have consistently also failed to address any of practical difficulties that ensure we will never get there.
The top finding in the study is a model of clarity, unless you’re its target: “The federal government was not prepared to support a just transition to a low-carbon economy.” And when these guys don’t prepare, they leave no stone turned. For instance, among “Key Facts and Figures” was “Under Budget 2019, Natural Resources Canada was mandated to lead the reporting on results of the activities implemented to support a just transition for the affected workers and communities. However, we found that this had not been done.”
Oops. But fortunately the all-purpose solution is ready to hand: an interdepartmental committee.
“To enable a coordinated approach to planning and implementing a just transition for Canadians, Natural Resources Canada, with the support of Employment and Social Development Canada, should formalize a governance structure to ensure that all relevant federal departments and agencies have clear roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities for advancing the federal support for a just transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Although if they could walk that way, we wouldn’t still be wandering in the desert, would we?
It is curious the faith people now place in a “whole-of-government” approach. Sure, it sounds holistic, gung-ho and determined. But what does it actually mean? That a vast, sprawling, infamously inefficient organization, and we don’t mean just the current Canadian government but government since the invention of the memo if not before, an organization whose individual parts are notoriously for their capacity to delay, waste, misplace, misunderstand and bloviate will somehow be made to work together seamlessly by… by… by what? What is this new addition to this rickety structure?
In the hilarious British 1980s sitcom “Yes Minister,” the bumbling politician Jim Hacker and the slick bureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby were in charge of precisely such an outfit, the Department of Administrative Affairs. It was meant to be satire in keeping with G.K. Chesterton’s dictum now a century old that the opposite of funny isn’t “serious,” it’s “not funny”. But apparently that joke, like nearly every other one in the series, is lost on the solemn dolts now in charge. (Who, in unrelated news, just sunk a billion tax dollars in a new agency to foster innovation, undaunted by being unable to get their own payroll software to work over the past six years).
Again we quote from the just transition “Audit at a Glance” since actually reading long boring reports gets in the way of high-minded rhetoric about how all you need is love.
“Natural Resources Canada, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and Prairies Economic Development Canada, with the support of Employment and Social Development Canada, should work together to measure, monitor, and report on just-transition outcomes. This would include
* establishing indicators and determining data requirements to measure and monitor the long-term effects of the coal phase-out on affected workers and communities/
* tracking progress against indicators that align with the Canadian Indicator Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and reflect the diversity of directly and indirectly affected workers and communities
* establishing results to be achieved for workers and communities that support a just transition to a low-carbon economy
* establishing a reporting schedule to publicly report on the outcomes of the just-transition programs”.
Just that? Sure. No problem. Um as soon as we get our budget deficit projections within 50% and our inflation guesses to within a factor of two, we’ll work out mathematically precise, rigorously accurate measures of social as well as economic well-being. Would you like decimal places with your social justice? And this is auditors talking.
As for public reporting, in the full “List of Recommendations” the suggestion is that NRC and ESDC should perform an efficient justice miracle including
“* outline the federal government’s approach to supporting a just transition to a low‑carbon economy
* develop an engagement strategy that includes key stakeholders that represent the diversity of affected workers and communities
* review the federal programming to determine how existing federal policies and programs can contribute to a just transition for workers and communities
* undertake a gap analysis to determine which policies and programs should be scaled up to support a just transition”.
And the response of the government was: “Agreed. Action to deliver on this recommendation is underway, under the leadership of Natural Resources Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada.”
Not yeah we’re in a mess and will straighten things out. A slippery claim that the indictment, while true, is in fact false because we secretly already fixed it. Which is typical, and is accompanied by a bunch more soothing gooblahoy about how they’ll “continue” to do stuff the Auditor General just rebuked them for not doing and which they have no more idea how to do than they have how to achieve unaided human flight.
In fact every agency agrees with every recommendation while insisting that it’s no longer needed. Which sadly is more evidence that the Auditor General has no idea how to tell departments they’re totally out to lunch and departments have no idea how to figure it out. Which means fixing it may take a little while. Especially since the people at the top have no idea that it matters. Just imagine there’s no problem. It’s easy if you give it a whole-of-government try.