Alberta’s spin on ‘misread’ information leads to inaction over ‘just transition’ plan: Analyst

Click to play video: 'Notley slams feds, Alberta government’s reaction over ‘just transition’ bill'
Notley slams feds, Alberta government’s reaction over ‘just transition’ bill
The leader of Alberta’s official opposition says Ottawa’s ‘just transition' legislation needs to be scrapped. Rachel Notley is speaking out on the proposed energy transition legislation. While Notley and Premier Danielle Smith agree on their opposition to the federal plan, Notley says the province has also dropped the ball on this file. Nicole Stillger explains – Jan 18, 2023

The federal government’s just transition legislation has become a point of contention over the past few weeks, as Alberta Premier Danielle Smith continues to rail against Ottawa for not supporting the province.

But what actionable steps are the province — and the premier — taking?

As much as Smith is calling out the feds for a bill she thinks is going to cut hundreds of thousands of jobs in the province’s biggest sector, her United Conservative Party government has not been transparent about its own plans for creating a more sustainable economy beyond the next few years.

Alberta has been quite progressive with its sustainable energy solutions, many experts agree, but those efforts don’t negate the fact the province has the highest emissions in the country.

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The federal government’s efforts to bring forward new policy to support sustainability and lowered emissions has Smith defending her province’s largest industry.

The premier has said on multiple occasions the phrase ‘just transition’ uses ‘social justice’ language and is targeting Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

The office of the federal minister of resources has said time and time again — especially more recently — there is nothing about the ‘just transition’ plan that involves eliminating jobs.

Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is in agreement that different language needs to be used, saying he prefers to use the term ‘sustainable jobs’ rather than ‘just transition’ because it more accurately depicts what they’re trying to do, which is create a thriving, sustainable economy with great jobs.

According to Ottawa, the ‘just transition’ plan includes “helping industries adopt clean technology and transition to net zero emissions,” including carbon capture and storage; and reducing oil and gas pollution by capping industry emissions.

Click to play video: 'Premier Smith comparing Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta to Indigenous experience draws criticism'
Premier Smith comparing Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta to Indigenous experience draws criticism

In addition, the legislation is “designed to ensure Canadian workers are the ones leading the energy transition through the creation of sustainable jobs and guaranteeing skills training is available where necessary,” said the minister’s press secretary Keean Nembhard.

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“It will focus on high-level guiding principles and transparency measures, and the government has worked with the provinces and territories — as well as industry and labour partners — to this end.”

More and more, the world is moving towards sustainable forms of energy.

The point of the bill, which has yet to be tabled by Wilkinson, is to move Canada’s energy industry in the same direction as that global energy transition, said Nembhard.

He added that “discussions are still in the works pertaining to province-specific approaches.”

Missed communication

On Tuesday, Smith took to Twitter, saying that, according to a leaked memo from the Liberal government, 2.7 million jobs would eliminated by the just transition plan.

The memo — which was not in fact leaked, but available to the public on the federal government website — was not referring to job loss, Nembhand later confirmed.

However, in a video released on her Twitter account Wednesday, Smith continues to talk about the “leaked memo” and what the federal government is “really up to.”

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There’s a problem with misinterpreting the information, said Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“I don’t know how anyone could have thought that it was intended to mean that’s how many jobs would be engaged,” she said.

Considering there are just over five million people in Alberta, it doesn’t make sense the memo would be referring to 2.7 million jobs, she added.

Rather than engaging with the federal government on a reasonable set of policies, Williams said the provincial government is choosing to misread that information.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding or misreading and an attempt to sort of spin the documents, the information available — which has been available for months, by the way. But an attempt to take that information and interpret it in the most negative way possible.”

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The question shouldn’t be what would be the best thing for Alberta, Williams said, but rather how a compromise with the federal government — that is good for the environment and economy — is going to be accomplished.

What are their plans anyways?

In March, the federal government announced an emissions plan to be net zero by 2050. It also set a goal to have emissions 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Just transition is the result of Minister Wilkinson’s mandate from the prime minister when he was appointed in 2021.

As for Alberta, the province’s target is to have a 45 per cent decrease in methane emissions by 2025. As part of the Renewable Energy Act, the province has legislated a target of 30 per cent renewable electricity by 2030.

But aside from this, the Alberta government has been vague about its plans for the future of the sustainability of the province and its overall contribution to lowering the country’s net emissions.

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In a statement to Global News Wednesday afternoon, Smith’s office said that last week, the premier “wrote the prime minister offering affordable, sustainable, and reliable energy to Japan and our allies. The minister of energy has also requested of the federal minister of natural resources about participating in an upcoming “Team Canada” mission to Japan.”

In regards to the hot-button topic, they added “the prime minister hasn’t even picked up the phone to discuss his “just transition” policy with the provinces (who) would be destroyed and the people whose jobs would be eliminated.”

“The advocacy from Alberta has not been one of engagement, it’s been one of, sort of public criticism,” Williams said.

She added it seems Smith is targeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as her political opponent, rather than Alberta’s NDP leader Rachel Notley.

If that’s the case, Williams said “it makes (Smith) seem more difficult to work with, with Justin Trudeau and the federal government collaboratively. And certainly the foundations for that collaboration then have been damaged by the rhetoric used up until this point.”

— With files from Nicole Stillger, Global News

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