A TransAlta wind turbine is shown at a wind farm near Pincher Creek, Alta., file photo.
Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Where does your mind go when you think of a room crowded with Albertans talking about energy, the economy, and their concerns for the future? If you guessed a room of animated discussions on how to create hundreds of thousands of good jobs through strategic investment in energy infrastructure and changing the tax system, you’d be right.But this wasn’t another rally for pipelines or a politician promising an impossible return to a booming oil economy. This was about something very different: a Green New Deal for Alberta and Canada.On Saturday, May 18th, over 250 people crowded into Edmonton’s Ritchie Community League hall to brainstorm how a Green New Deal could tackle the climate crisis and bring prosperity back to a province wracked by austerity and a boom-and-bust resource economy.The meeting was organized by Climate Justice Edmonton, a group of community organizers, and was the first of over 150 town halls being organized across Canada to brainstorm how a Green New Deal could create good jobs, meaningfully address the climate crisis, and make our society more just and equitable for all people.As the town hall progressed, it became apparent that the reasons people supported a Green New Deal were the same as those which drove many Albertans to elect Jason Kenney’s UCP in the recent provincial election: a vision for the future that spoke to working people’s economic anxieties.The town hall’s makeup was nothing like Danielle Smith’s recent anti-worker, climate change-denying, and anti-Green New Deal column published in this newspaper. There were workers — including oil and gas workers — who want good jobs that won’t disappear the next time the price of oil crashes; teenagers worried about how the climate crisis is undermining their future and prospects for a stable career; parents who want to spend less time working and more time with their families; Indigenous people working to decolonize the land and have their rights respected; elders who want to make a better world for their grandchildren.Even some elected politicians and political hopefuls showed up and got to hear people’s vision. The attendees’ backgrounds and motivations were diverse, but all found common ground in what an ambitious plan like a Green New Deal could offer them and those they care for.In breakout groups, including those that had to move outside due to the overflowing space, people shared what they thought a Green New needed to include — and what it should not include — from which several critical principles emerged.Our economic system that rewards a tiny class of millionaires and billionaires at the expense of everyone else must change, and the wealth they hoard should be taxed to fund a rapid transition to renewable energy in line with what climate science tells us. This transition must support all workers, with guarantees for stable and well-paying jobs. There must be justice for those left behind by our current economic system. People experiencing homelessness, migrant workers and communities of colour must be centred in this plan. Indigenous self-determination must be interwoven into a Green New Deal, with a decolonial framework used throughout its creation and implementation.The principles recorded at this town hall and those like it across Canada will be gathered and examined by the Pact for a Green New Deal, a network of community organizations, non-profits, and advocacy groups working to centre this vision in the upcoming federal election and beyond. More town halls, organizing events, and training are being planned for the coming months to refine what these principles look like for our communities and how they can be achieved.No one at the town hall denied that a Green New Deal is an ambitious vision. But when a community in the heart of Alberta’s oil country packs a room to plan it, it’s a sign of its power to shape a movement for good jobs, climate action, and justice when they’re needed more than ever.Clay Steell works as a fisheries biologist at the University of Alberta and is a member of Climate Justice Edmonton, a group of community organizers whose work centres on the climate crisis, justice for marginalized groups, and solidarity with frontline Indigenous communities.Listen to the Financial Post’s weekly podcast, Down to Business