Canada will see federal just transition legislation early this year that will become a gateway for oil and gas workers to move into green energy jobs, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told CBC this week.
Wilkinson has been styling the bill as an action plan for “sustainable jobs,” CBC reports, even though fossil-producing provinces see it as “the nail in the coffin of the oil and gas industry” and the work force and communities that still depend on it.
“I’ve said it many times publicly that I do not believe that the challenge we are going to face is that there are workers who are displaced that will not find other good-paying jobs,” Wilkinson said. “I am actually quite worried that there are so many opportunities… we will not have enough workers to fill the jobs.”
Wilkinson told CBC he’s been working with Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan and NDP economic development critic Charlie Angus to craft the bill, as a condition of last year’s confidence and supply agreement between the minority Liberal government and the New Democrats.
Wilkinson said he also hopes to finalize a $5-billion deal to build the Atlantic Loop, a grid corridor to deliver hydroelectric power from Labrador and Quebec to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. “I don’t think that many people understand how important the electricity grid is going forward nor the scale of the challenges that we face,” he told CBC. “I often say that the electricity grid is the railway of our time.”
Wilkinson’s just transition announcement drew immediate criticism from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. “The federal government’s ill-conceived and short-sighted plan is extremely harmful to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are supported by the energy sector and will be detrimental to Canada’s economic recovery,” she tweeted.
Former pipeline executive Sonya Savage, now Alberta’s minister of environment and protected areas, echoed Smith’s concern about job loss. “We expect the federal government to stand up for our world-leading oil and gas employees, instead of trying to eliminate their jobs,” she tweeted.
CBC says both Alberta and Saskatchewan have declined to take part in the regional energy resource roundtables the federal government has been convening over the last several months. University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach said it may not be in Alberta’s best interests to stay clear of the sessions.
“This is going to be one of the initial conversations where Premier Smith gets to sort of tell the rest of the country how they should think about Alberta’s energy sector,” he told CBC. “It’ll be interesting to see how she sets that conversation.”