Feb 26, 2016

Reducing poverty and carbon emissions: lessons from Manitoba


I often get asked about alternatives to our fossil-fuelled status quo. In recent years, there have been many new projects that point to the way forward, that get beyond vague statements about reducing carbon emissions and boosting clean energy. Our CCPA-BC office held a conference last year to examine new approaches to good and green jobs. One of our presenters was Lynne Fernandez from our Manitoba office, who offered some lessons for BC from Manitoba: a network of innovative projects engaging both the Manitoba government and social enterprises.

Lynne’s case study has now been published by the Manitoba office, but the BC government and BC Hydro should take a closer look, and steal some of these ideas for BC. Below is a summary from Lynne.

Manitoba Social Enterprises Provide Win-Win Strategy

Lynne Fernandez, CCPA-MB

The report titled How Government Support for Social Enterprise Can Reduce Poverty and Green House Gases describes how a combination of governmental policies and initiatives in Manitoba allows social enterprises to reduce Manitoba’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while training and employing Inner City and First Nations workers. The provincial government and Manitoba Hydro are supporting social enterprises so they can work in two emerging ‘green’ sectors: building retrofits and alternative energy installations.

Three social enterprises are examined in the paper. An Aboriginal-owned social enterprise, Aki Energy (Aki is Oji-Cree for earth) works with Manitoba Hydro to enable First Nations families– the majority of whom rely on expensive electric heating – to access Pay As You Save (PAYS) Financing. This program finances the upfront cost of equipment and installation for geo-thermal systems, recovering the cost through an on-bill charge over 20 years. Energy bill savings are greater than the financing charge, so participating First Nations households see lower energy costs from day one.

In the first year Aki Energy trained 30 First Nation geothermal installers who installed 110 residential geothermal systems on Peguis First Nation and Fisher River Cree Nation. Families who received the new systems will cumulatively save approximately $44,000 per year in reduced utility costs.

Manitoba Hydro recently announced plans to install $18M work of geothermal installations (around 1,200 homes) over the next three years, and Aki Energy is currently expanding this program to a number of additional First Nations.

Building Urban Industry for Local Development (BUILD) and the Brandon Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP) are Manitoba social enterprises that train multi-barriered workers. Located in Brandon and administered by the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation (part of the government’s Neighbourhoods Alive Program”), BEEP currently works with 12 trainees who are funded by Training and Employment Services at the provincial department of Jobs and the Economy. All trainees were previously unemployed and/or collecting Employment Insurance (EI) or Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) from the province.

Through Manitoba Hydro’s Affordable Energy Program and Pay as You Save (PAYS) program participants install attic, basement and wall cavity insulation. BEEP has completed energy and water-efficiency and insulation upgrades in over 600 Manitoba Housing units. More recently, Manitoba Housing hired BEEP to complete asbestos and mold remediation on 25 duplexes in Brandon prior to completing exterior refreshes. These contracts provide excellent training opportunities to BEEP participants so they can develop marketable skills.

Started in 2006, BUILD today works with 50 trainees per year. Trainees tend to be Aboriginal men who live in Winnipeg’s Inner City and/or North End. There are also some newcomers and females, and almost all have low-education levels, lack stable housing and most have had contact with the justice system. For 2 months trainees learn trades-based math for 1.5 hours every morning in preparation for an essential skills assessment. Trainees then continue on to hard skills training in building insulation, taping, mudding, door hanging and dry walling. Soft skills cover everything from nutrition, parenting and budgeting to stress management and work ethics. Those workers who successfully work through training have the opportunity to move to the social enterprise side of BUILD where they expand their on-the-job training with government procurement jobs through Manitoba Housing and Manitoba Hydro.

Up to 75 percent of BUILD/BEEP trainees have a history with the criminal justice system, so when the cost of ‘fighting crime’ is weighed next to the cost of giving high-risk people an alternative to illegal activity, the savings are compelling. Savings are also realized when previously unemployed people work, pay income tax and increase their consumption – and when workers no longer collect Employment and Income Assistance (EIA).

Many BUILD graduates and other multi-barriered workers find work with Manitoba Green Retrofit (MGR), a social enterprise that does energy-efficient retrofits for Manitoba Housing; property management; demolition and salvage; ‘make readies’ – repairs for Manitoba Housing; and offers an effective bed bug treatment service called Bug N Scrub which is available free to vulnerable renters through a provincial government program, and to individuals who pay MGR directly. MGR completed a contract to replace 160 furnaces (with high efficiency models) with Manitoba Hydro and the Aboriginal owned non-profit Kinew Housing.

These social enterprises receive various kinds of government support. Neighbourhood Renewal Corporations; a combination of new and existing legislation; Manitoba Hydro; the province’s use of a Community Economic Development (CED) strategy which informs government procurement; and the new Social Enterprise Strategy all form a framework so the social enterprises can operate. Of particular note is The Energy Savings Act which supports the use of social enterprises to improve energy efficiency and reduce GHGs and includes the On-Meter Efficiency Improvement Program and PAYS.

Given the potential for social enterprises to train and employ previously unemployable workers, the Act could go further. It needs to adopt some hard targets for building retrofits in more low-income housing units. And the province needs to exploit the model in other areas besides Manitoba Housing and Manitoba Hydro. The City of Winnipeg should take note as well; this model would work well to train and employ multi-barriered workers in Winnipeg Transit’s busy bus maintenance facility, for example, or in a new organic waste collection service.

One more element in the model needs to be puzzled out: how to help trainees transition into the tougher private sector where employers are not as supportive. CCPA research recommends adopting an Aboriginal-focused Labour Market Intermediary (LMI) that would bring employers, jobseekers, community-based service providers, labour unions, education and training providers and other key stakeholders together to provide long-term transitional supports toward improved employment attainment and retention. A community process is currently underway to design a community-based LMI that, if and when implemented, would complement the social enterprise strategy.

Social enterprises have come a long way in the 15 years the current government has been in office. But will the sector survive a change in government – should that occur in April, 2016? It would be tragic if the framework, so painstakingly built over the years, were dismantled; much has been gained and there is much more left to do.

Lynne Fernandez holds the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the CCPA-MB.

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