Canada's Glacial "Just Transition" Needs a New Ministry

Activists launch pseudo "Just Transition Ministry" to call out abysmal record

By Ron Johnson

May 10, 2022

As we near the end of 2025, it’s worth reflecting on the first 1,000 days of a new era. So much has changed since the tumultuous events of 2022. Who could forget that year? It began with a weeks-long occupation of the capital, then a state of emergency, a war in Europe, and finally a series of unprecedented natural disasters—a stark reminder that the climate emergency loomed over all the others.

Thus begins the opening communication from the fictional Just Transition Ministry—a campaign initiated by poking fun at and calling out the Canadian government’s seeming addiction to fossil fuel projects.   

Amidst a climate crisis wreaking havoc across the planet, the federal government of Canada and its leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, like to talk about a “just transition” away from fossil fuels fueling the crisis. Trudeau’s government has been studying, discussing, and issuing press releases and statements about a just transition. Yet, just days after the IPCC issued its recent climate change report, which stated that it would be “moral and economic madness” to fund new fossil fuel projects, the Canadian government did just that. Again.

On April 6, the government approved the Bay du Nord deep-water drilling project off the coast of Newfoundland-Labrador. The project will extract a billion barrels of oil from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. “This decision is a cowardly abdication of the need to confront climate change,” stated Gretchen Fitzgerald, national program director of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation in response to the announcement. “Bay du Nord also places whales, deep-sea corals, and other ocean life at risk from spills, noise, and vessel traffic. We cannot allow this approval to stand and will be working tirelessly to ensure the project does not proceed.” 

The government approved Bay du Nord around the same time that the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline reached the halfway point. The Canadian government purchased the pipeline from its previous owner, Kinder Morgan Inc., for $4.5 billion in 2018. If completed, Trans Mountain will transport more than 500,000 barrels of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to the British Columbia coast, where a slew of tankers will transport it to overseas markets. 

There are additional pitched battles against new fossil fuel infrastructure in other locations across the country, including the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in northern British Columbia, which is set to begin construction this month, and the dispute over the Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.

Enter the Just Transition Ministry—a satirical bid to realize something that many people in Canada and beyond desperately want.

“There’s actually this moment of hope, this moment of seeing the reality that we are fighting for,” says Chris Gusen of “The video in just under a minute gives you a sense of how exciting this project is and can be. And then, of course, in the last quarter of the video, it pulls the rug out from under you. It shows you that the government is not doing this right now. Far from it.”

An Indigenous man raises his drum during a protest against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in Vancouver on May 29, 2018. | Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

In addition to the video, has set up a Just Transition Ministry website to resemble something the federal government might create, one day—if it was inclined to follow through on its promises and kick its fossil fuel habit.

“Canada is still subsidizing the fossil fuel industry,” Gushen says. “I think a lot of people were convinced by the close parody, and they had that moment of relief, release, or realization, and that is motivating them to take action.” 

In the fictional reality of the Just Transition Ministry, the Trans Mountain Pipeline is mothballed, along with every other fossil fuel project, while the money saved is poured into other areas such as green energy projects—something environmentalists say should have been done years ago. Some programs and projects the campaign suggests could be undertaken are a federal green jobs guarantee, retraining programs for oil and gas workers, a managed phaseout of fossil fuels, expanding community-owned renewable energy sources, and long-overdue investments in Indigenous-led initiatives to develop safe housing and ensure clean drinking water for all. 

“If you click on any of the links to these programs on the website, you get an error message because, right now, none of these necessary programs exist,” Gusen says. “But, without this kind of big, bold action, Canada will fail to tackle the climate emergency in time to avoid the most catastrophic impacts. It’s past time that this government got serious and passed the Just Transition Act.” 

Trudeau’s government has set up a website advertising its commitment to a just transition. Until April 30, it was soliciting feedback from Canadians. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada found the government “was not prepared to support a just transition to a low-carbon economy,” following its announcement that it planned to phase out coal by 2030.

“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,” the report read.

Luisa Da Silva is the executive director of Iron & Earth, a Canadian worker-led not-for-profit organization dedicated to putting a just transition into action by retraining skilled oil and gas workers to make them part of climate solutions. “When I read the news about the auditor's reports, saying that there really was nothing in place that would have been able to have created the foundation for a just transition, I was extremely disappointed,” she says. “So many workers don't want to be in oil and gas anymore. They see the writing on the wall.”

Founded in 2016, Iron & Earth offers a variety of just-transition options, such as working with communities on energy diversification projects including solar and wind turbines. The group also operates a climate-career portal for workers to find out how to transition into the renewable energy section. 

“This really is our way of laying out a blueprint for policymakers to be able to implement a just transition and the transition to renewables here in Canada,” Da Silva says.