Neumann and Cobden: Green procurement could boost Canada-U.S. relations

The following op-ed column, co-authored by USW National Director Ken Neumann and Catherine Cobden, was published by iPolitics.

Canadian politicians of every stripe now regularly state that a strong economy and a healthy environment can go hand-in-hand. At the same time, the pandemic has led to significant new commitments by governments across the country to increase infrastructure spending, often with a call to “build back better” and greener. This has raised the important question of the role public procurement can play in meeting both our economic and environmental objectives.  

Last month, the C.D. Howe Institute hosted a policy seminar, in which leaders from labour, industry, government, and environmental groups were invited to discuss procurement solutions that benefit our economy, jobs, and climate. Consensus can be hard to build, but we hope this collaboration shows policymakers that sensible solutions are at the ready, and the need for political leadership is now.

One key solution is “green procurement”: procuring goods and services that have a smaller carbon footprint. Governments around the world now have the opportunity to include it in their plans to rebuild their economies from the devastation of the pandemic. With many Canadian commodities being among the greenest in the world — including steel, because relatively little carbon is used and emitted in its production — it’s worth considering a system that prioritizes, even normalizes, green public procurement. We believe that doing so will help advance the ambitious climate objectives that are crucial to Canada’s net-zero transformation in the coming years.

Not only would implementing a robust and green procurement framework help to dramatically reduce emissions and reach net neutrality, which governments in Canada have promised to do so publicly, it could also strengthen the economic and environmental partnerships between Canada and the United States. The Biden administration has explicitly tied fighting climate change to creating good union jobs. Both the steel sector’s low carbon emissions, and the good, unionized jobs it provides, should give Canadian-made steel a clear advantage in U.S. plans.

Our two countries remain each other’s most important trading partners, with deep integration across supply chains and organized labour. We also share a vision for the climate. There is consensus among us all that more must be done to tangibly take the significant opportunity in front of us.

It’s the main focus of the Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership, which Prime Minister Trudeau and President Joe Biden launched earlier this year in the interest of advancing their countries’ mutual prosperity. And while Canada and the U.S. did launch a Greening Government Initiative in April, Canadian officials need to pursue a deeper dialogue with their American colleagues about green procurement in order to strengthen supply chains and protect our strategic advantage, as well as to create and maintain community-sustaining jobs in both countries.

For our part, industry and labour groups across the economy are ready to contribute to collective efforts on green procurement. We call on our governments to act on this opportunity and advance necessary progress, knowing it’s a national imperative if we want to ensure long-term competitiveness and success. 

We also do so because we realize that our national economic and environmental commitments are a culmination of our own pledges, be they the Canadian Steel Producers Association members’ aspirational goal to achieve net zero by 2050, or the United Steelworkers’ participation in Blue Green Canada, which advocates for working people and the environment by promoting solutions to environmental problems that also benefit the economy and create good jobs.

We are eager for a new vision of green public procurement, because we have an incredible opportunity now, but also an obligation to future generations to leave no stone unturned in the fight against climate change.

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Ken Neumann is the United Steelworkers National Director for Canada.
Catherine Cobden is the president and CEO of the Canadian Steel Producers Association.

View the column on the iPolitics website.


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