Canada’s energy jobs transition bill stirs divisiveness in oil heartland

Jan 22 (Reuters) – In western Canada’s oil sector, controversy rages over federal government legislation to help the fossil fuel workforce transition to a greener economy, but union and community leaders warn that the politicization of the Just Transition Bill is obscuring the needs of workers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is expected to table its long-awaited labor transition bill this spring, ahead of expected economic changes as it pursues ambitious targets to cut emissions that contribute to global warming climatic.

The government of Alberta, Canada’s main crude oil producing province, says the legislation will dismantle the oil and gas industry which accounts for 5% of Canada’s GDP.

“When I hear the words ‘Just Transition’ it signals job cuts and for Alberta it’s a no-start!” Alberta Conservative Premier Danielle Smith wrote on Twitter last week.

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

The Trudeau government is trying to allay concerns about the bill, first promised in 2019. A government source familiar with the matter, who is not authorized to speak publicly, said the bill will on principles to guide decisions and create jobs.

Trudeau told Reuters in a recent interview that the sooner Alberta’s “political class” understood that the future was not to be feared, the better. Read more

“This shouldn’t be a political question, it’s a question about what’s really going on in the global economy,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labor (AFL).

LESSONS ON CHARCOAL DISPOSAL

The focus should be on helping communities adapt to sweeping industrial change and economic diversification, McGowan said, citing Alberta’s recent coal phase-out as a case study.

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

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

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

“Renewable energy investment has taken off in Alberta in ways we never even dreamed of when we did this research,” he said.

The oil and gas sector is currently experiencing a skills shortage in a tight global labor market, but the current workforce is 18% below the 2014 peak of 225,900, according to Energy Safety Canada. Think tank Clean Energy Canada estimates that there could be 200,000 clean energy jobs created by 2030.

If done right, the bill could encourage technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen and be Canada’s response to the US Inflation Reduction Act, energy subsidy program green fee of $430 billion passed last year, the AFL’s McGowan added.

Former coal miner Len Austin, who now runs a government-funded just transition center to support former coal workers, said policymakers had made a “really good effort” with programs such as transition toward retirement, relocation packages and recycling vouchers of CA$12,000 ($8,945.21).

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

“It’s not 100% that simple…going from earning CA$100,000 to CA$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)

Reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia and Steve Scherer in Ottawa Editing by Denny Thomas and Josie Kao

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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