How do we save 20,000 jobs and kick-start a green economy? Posties and auto workers have an idea

Auto workers at the GM plant in Oshawa, on the shore of Lake Ontario, have been cranking out Cadillacs, Buicks and OIdsmobiles since 1953. Could they build a made-in-Canada electric vehicle? Workers say yes.

Without a bold new plan, 2,522 GM workers will lose their jobs this Christmas as the global auto giant shuts down the factory. Labour leaders say the total loss will be closer to 20,000 jobs as local businesses tied to the Oshawa plant collapse.

Enter the postal workers. Canada Post operates the largest logistics fleet in the country, with 13,000 delivery vehicles. Posties say rather than replacing aging vans with new ones run on gasoline, Oshawa auto workers could build them an electric fleet.

It’s an idea members of both unions will discuss at a town hall next week in Oshawa. And it’s one Canadians should support. Instead of giving billions of public dollars to oil companies, why not re-tool the Oshawa plant and turn it into a Canadian manufacturing hub for electric vehicles?

No time like the present

Canada, we have a problem. The country is warming twice as fast as the global average. Fires, floods and extreme weather events are hitting faster and harder than we imagined. Meanwhile, the feeble actions taken so far by Ottawa (think carbon taxes) are fuelling right-wing backlash and polarizing our politics.

You might not believe me when I say this, but the post office has a solution. Well, not the actual post office, but the people who work there. The ones slogging through heat waves and smoke out west – and navigating brutal winter storms out east – to get your Amazon packages to your door on time.

Unlike politicians, posties talk to real people every day. They understand how our communities fit together. And in a fashion consistent with their history, postal workers are offering us a path forward that serves the interests of everybody in this country.

So, pour yourself a Canadian Club. And let me tell you how the seeds for a Green New Deal were planted in Canada, and how you can help a ragtag alliance of letter carriers and auto workers make it real – starting on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Delivering community power

Years ago, before U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez popularized the phrase “Green New Deal,” posties dreamed up a way they could future-proof their industry – and help Canadians take a big step forward on climate.

It’s called Delivering Community Power (or DeCoPo for short) and it was launched after the last federal election at a news conference with Naomi Klein – who had introduced the Leap Manifesto a few months earlier. DeCoPo is a vision to use the postal system (the largest network of buildings, vehicles and people in Canada) to help Canadians transition to a low-carbon economy.

There are more post offices than Tim Hortons outlets in Canada. Post offices could house charging stations for the public, and a massive electric delivery fleet. Post offices could also offer low-cost banking services (many rural communities don’t have a bank). And since posties are in your neighbourhood anyway, they could offer low-carbon services like grocery delivery or check on elderly folks, which postal workers do in France and Japan.

As it turned out, those ideas were ahead of their time. In April 2016, the Leap Manifesto took centre stage at a tumultuous federal NDP convention that saw leader Thomas Mulcair tossed out – while newly-elected Premier Rachel Notley banished the green wing of her party to the political wilderness.

Taking the microphone in Edmonton, Notley called the idea of transitioning away from oil and gas naïve, ill-considered, and contrary to NDP values. Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan urged delegates to vote against a resolution that would see the party adopt the principles of the Leap Manifesto.

You’ve probably never heard of Delivering Community Power, and that’s why. The practical, jobs-friendly measures proposed by the postal workers were rolled into the Leap Manifesto and discarded by progressive leaders obsessed with pipelines.

The demise of the Alberta NDP is unfortunate, but it creates space to bring back the ideas at the core of the posties’ vision.

A new life for Community Power

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is infamous for saying “the environment and economy go hand in hand”. It turns out what he meant was: “I will jack up gas prices while giving billions in public money to oil companies.”

What if the federal government instead used its power and resources to revitalize manufacturing and create millions of green jobs? Nationalizing the Oshawa plant would not only save thousands of jobs in an election year, it could drive down the price of electric vehicles as Canadian assembly lines finally started cranking out EVs at scale.

I’m excited about this and I don’t even live in Ontario. Tapping into Canada’s ingenuity while cutting emissions and building out charging infrastructure – that’s a big win in the early years of the climate war.

If you’re ready for a made-in-Canada electric postal fleet, let Vancouver cabinet minister Joyce Murray know. As President of the Treasury Board, this is her responsibility. And if she says there’s no money … tell her to stop dumping billions of public dollars into pipelines, tax breaks for oil companies and other corporate welfare for oil and gas billionaires.

P.S. If you’re reading this in Ontario, THANK YOU!!! Get on down to the IBEW Hall in Oshawa on April 25 to support the green jobs plan being put forward by your local union members.