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Canada's energy jobs transition bill sparks discord in oil heartland

Commodities Jan 23, 2023 04:01PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pipelines run at the McKay River Suncor oil sands in-situ operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta, September 17, 2014. REUTERS/Todd Korol
 
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By Nia Williams and Steve Scherer

(Reuters) -In Canada's western oil patch, controversy is raging over federal government legislation intended to help the fossil fuel labour force transition to a greener economy, but union and community leaders are warning politicization of the Just Transition bill obscures the needs of workers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government is expected to table its long-awaited workforce transition bill this spring, ahead of economic changes expected as they pursue ambitious goals to slash climate-warming emissions.

The government of Alberta, Canada's main crude-producing province, says the legislation will dismantle the oil and gas industry that makes up 5% of Canada's GDP.

"When I hear the words "Just Transition" it signals eliminating jobs and for Alberta, that is a non-starter!" Alberta's Conservative Premier Danielle Smith wrote on Twitter last week.

The oil and gas sector employs around 185,000 workers, making the bill a hot topic in Alberta ahead a provincial election in May. Smith is using the threat of job losses to attack Trudeau and rally her conservative base, although she has been criticised for misinterpreting how many jobs may be at risk.

The Trudeau government is trying to soothe concerns about the bill, first promised in 2019. A government source familiar with the file, who is not authorized to speak publicly, said the legislation will be about principles to guide decisions and creating jobs.

Trudeau told Reuters in a recent interview that the sooner Alberta's "political class" understood the future is not to be feared, the better.

"This shouldn't be a political issue, this is an issue about what's really happening in the global economy," said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).

COAL PHASE-OUT LESSONS

The focus should be on helping communities adjust to sweeping industrial changes and economic diversification, McGowan said, pointing to Alberta's recent coal phase-out as a case study.

Later this year, Alberta's last coal-fired power station will convert to natural gas, part of an accelerated energy transition first announced in 2015 that will wrap up seven years ahead of schedule.

More than 3,100 people worked in the province's thermal coal industry in 2015. Some workers took early retirement, others went north to the oil patch or moved to other industries, while others found work in mine reclamation or the newly converted gas power stations.

The Parkland Institute research centre estimated in 2019 that up to 3,500 new jobs would be created in renewable energy and coal-to-gas power station conversions, but lead author Ian Hussey now says that number was far too low.

"Renewable investment has taken off in Alberta in a way that was never even dreamed of when we did that research," he said.

The oil and gas sector is currently experiencing a skills shortage amid tight labour markets globally, but the current workforce is 18% smaller than the 2014 peak of 225,900, according to Energy Safety Canada. Think tank Clean Energy Canada estimates there could be 200,000 clean energy jobs created by 2030.

If done right, the bill could incentivise technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen and be Canada's answer to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, the $430-billion green energy subsidy package passed last year, the AFL's McGowan added.

Ex-coal miner Len Austin, who now runs a government-funded Just Transition centre supporting former coal workers, said policymakers made a "really good effort" with programs such as retirement bridging, relocation packages and C$12,000 ($8,945.21) retraining vouchers.

But there was insufficient funding for economic diversification and infrastructure projects within coal communities to create new jobs, and governments need to understand not everyone can work in renewables, he added.

"It's 100% not that simple...to go from making C$100,000 to C$40,000 plays a big part in the decision-making that comes with the idea of losing your livelihood," Austin said.

($1 = 1.3415 Canadian dollars)

Canada's energy jobs transition bill sparks discord in oil heartland
 

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Comments (5)
William Smith
William Smith Jan 23, 2023 11:11PM ET
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Climate change is billions of years old and can't be stopped by man. The leftists brainwashing of their lambs is amazing, as witnessed by many of the boards brainwashed leftist posters nonsense.
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Jan 23, 2023 4:34PM ET
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mel, you must be confused; the right wing conserative are destroying your future with their ignorance and stupidity. if your not confused,. you must have your head stuck up a very dark place to make such a idiotic statement. those 100 degree temps in the Arctic tell a different story.
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Jan 23, 2023 4:33PM ET
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mel, you must be confused; the right wing conserative are destroying your future with their ignorance and stupidity. if your not confused,. you must have your head stuck up a very dark place to make such a idiotic statement. those 100 degree temps in the Arctic tell a different story.
Mel Keeler
Mel Keeler Jan 22, 2023 12:52PM ET
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Just say No. There is no. climate emergency. It's the left wing socialist elites stealing your future. #Canceltrudeau
Brad Albright
Brad Albright Jan 22, 2023 12:52PM ET
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Dinosaur.
Martin Lang
Martin Lang Jan 22, 2023 12:52PM ET
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Agreed!
Luke Knoep
Luke Knoep Jan 22, 2023 12:52PM ET
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Just wait until the summer when it’s 100 degrees outside everyday
Ac Tektrader
Ac Tektrader Jan 22, 2023 12:52PM ET
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mel, you must be confused; the right wing conserative are destroying your future with their ignorance and stupidity. .. those 100 degree temps in the Arctic tell a different story.
Ferdinando Riboni
Ferdinando Riboni Jan 22, 2023 10:57AM ET
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the Elitist will destroy your country..
 
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