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Water Today Title November 20, 2017

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Green Economy - Part 1

In a press release issued on February 29, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) announced that it was teaming up with environmental, Indigenous and community groups to present innovative ideas for a different kind of post office one that might fuel a greener economy. Among the ideas proposed by the "Delivering Community Power" campaign: electric charging stations at post offices and converting the postal fleet to made-in-Canada electric vehicles. WaterToday spoke with CUPW's national president, Mike Palecek, over the phone. Here is a transcription of that interview.


WaterToday: Lets take it from the top. Why is a union involved with trying to green a crown cooperation, can you give me a little bit of context on why you're up to this?

Palecek: Absolutely. Our union has always taken an interest in environmental questions. We advance policies both with our employer and with others to help green the country.

In this particular instance, we've teamed up with Naomi Klein and the folks from the Leap Manifesto to put together a comprehensive plan to not just green Canada Post but actually to use the crown cooperation as a way to develop the infrastructure that the private sector cannot or will not do, to lead a transition to a more sustainable and equitable society.

WaterToday: When you talk about cannot or will not develop the infrastructure, can you tell me a little bit about how you see that working? Both why it's not working now and why it might work in the future.

Palecek: One of the things that we're calling for in this plan is for Canada Post to transition to electric vehicles. But in order to do that we think that the government needs to retool some of the auto-plants to put laid-off auto-workers back to work and start producing electric vehicles in this country.
We want them to install charging stations at local post offices across the country. And that way the public will be able to actually purchase electric vehicles. And we're hoping that'll begin the transition that the private sector so far hasn't been willing to do.

WaterToday: You talk about using shuttered auto plants, can you tell me for what exactly? To retool the existing Canada Post Fleet for electric vehicles?

Palecek: Right. But not just for Canada Post. Once we actually have these production lines up and running they can be producing electric vehicles and selling them to the general public.

WaterToday: Any thoughts on how much that would cost?

Palecek: We're in the process of costing all of this out; and then of course it really depends on what direction they decide to go. But these specific details are going to be coming out down the road. At the moment we put out this big vision for a new direction for Canada Post. And we've invited Mr.Chopra, the CEO of Canada Post to sit down with us and talk about how we can develop this plan and jointly approach the government to make it a reality.

WaterToday: That's actually quite an ambitious idea. Just to follow the concept through a little bit more; the idea is to put charging stations at Canada Post outlets; and then not just Canada post vehicles but for instance Environment Canada or Natural Resources Canada could recharge their vehicles there.

And then your premise is, if you can get these plants retooled to turn out electric vehicles then this would make sense in the big picture. Do I have that about right?

Palecek: Absolutely. And eventually the plants could be open to the general public to use as well for a small fee.

WaterToday: I realize that you represent Canada Post employees. Have you had input from the brass at Canada Post and or other departments?

Palecek: This is an ambitious plan for sure. We've been meeting with Canada Post with all sorts of environmental issues for many years. At times they've looked as if they' were actually willing to green their operations and take a look at the environmental impact of the work that we do.

But all of that really seemed to come to an end with the election of a conservative majority government. So we're really hoping now that with the change in the government, we might have an opportunity to look at the real possibilities that are here.

And not just dogmatically keep saying that you have to cut services; because only the conservatives seem to be able to wrap their heads around this idea that you can cut your way to growth.

WaterToday: Let's address that a little bit. Can you tell me about some of the environmental projects that perhaps have come to fruition vis--vis Canada Post or your union?

Palecek: There's very little that we've been able to get Canada Post to actually agree to and implement. There were a number of pilot projects 4 or 5 years ago. Canada Post began buying electric vehicles in small numbers and using them as delivery vehicles. There was a program to retrofit some of the old buildings. But as I said we really haven't been able to make a lot of headway over the last 4 or 5 years. So we're hoping the new situation will change that.

WaterToday: The concept of reopening or restarting these auto-plants seems like a huge, huge, concept. Have you had discussions with any of the manufacturers of electric vehicles currently?

Palecek: No not yet. We're going to be reaching out to our allies in the labour movement over the next few weeks, to sit down and work out a plan for this. We know so far that there are very little efforts to manufacture electric vehicles anywhere in North America.
I believe that in Windsor there's one production line which is going to be starting up soon which will actually be the first production line for electric vehicles in North America.

WaterToday: I'm a little bit amazed by all of this. When I read the press release, I thought okay this is CUPW trying to say, "Hey we're fighting the good fight and it's good to be green." I don't know about unions but I've certainly seen other corporations say, "Hey it's good to be green." And then you know I'm a little bit disappointed by what actually happens.

Palecek: Mm-hmm.

WaterToday: On a scale of 1 to 100, what do you think are your odds of getting this all done; or is there some strategy that it isn't clear to journalists and I guess the general public reading these kinds of announcements.

Palecek: Well the truth is we have to get it done. We have to lead a transition to a sustainable and equitable society. That's what the science is telling us and we have to get on it quickly or else we're risking the existence of the human species. It is actually that serious.
So we're asking the government to take this seriously. We're asking the government to live up to those huge commitments that they made in Paris to transform this economy into a more sustainable model. And what we're suggesting is they use the crown corporations to do this.
Historically, that's the role crown corporations have been able to play in this country. They can build the infrastructure that the private sector is not able to do and lead that transition. If you look back in history you'll see at the onset of World War II, the Canadian economy was completely transformed in a matter of months in order to support the war efforts.
And we're saying that if you can find that kind of money, if you can find that kind of energy to kill people, then you can find it to fix the environmental problems that we have.

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