The federal government has released its plans for “just transition” legislation and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is disappointed.
“They’ve come nowhere near meeting us halfway yet,” said Smith at the Indigenous Energy Summit at Tsuut’ina on Friday.
Smith said the target of reducing carbon emissions in the oil and gas sector by 42 per cent in the next seven years is unrealistic.
“They keep on mentioning their emission reduction plan, which we know has the potential to be devastating to this province,” she said.
Ninety per cent of Alberta’s electricity comes from natural gas, Smith said, and she argued that this plan blocks the ability to expand that.
“We will begin to feel immediately the effects of not being able to expand that out,” she said.
Increasing natural gas exports and focusing on carbon capture, small modular nuclear reactors and other technologies in the oil and gas sector will achieve emissions reductions targets, said Smith.
Smith said she is open to continuing talks with the federal government.
“We’ve got their attention — they know we’re angry. They know we’re going to push back against them, we will not allow (the oil and gas) industry to shut down.”
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The Sustainable Jobs Plan, released Friday, said if Canada plays its cards right, the clean energy economy will create so many jobs there may not be enough workers to fill them.
In previous months, Smith has opposed the idea of a just transition, saying the idea amounts to an attempt to wipe out the oil and gas industry.
Just one day before the plan was released, Smith wrote again to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to put the whole thing on ice.
Smith said the just transition plan, along with federal regulations to cap emissions from oil and gas production and create a zero-emissions electricity grid, “would pose an unconstitutional and existential threat to the Alberta economy and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Albertans.”
The plan said while Canadians must accept that demand for oil and gas will drop sharply, it will not disappear entirely, and many workers already have the skills needed to work in emerging sectors like hydrogen and biofuels.
If the country plays its cards right, the transition to a clean energy economy will not prompt massive unemployment in the energy sector, according to the plan.
“According to numerous studies, rather than a shortage of jobs, in Canada we are much more likely to see an abundance of sustainable jobs with a shortage of workers required to fill them,” reads the plan.
Luisa Da Silva is executive director of Iron & Earth, an organization that represents oil and gas workers who are interested in transitioning into net-zero emissions jobs. She said workers are interested in upskilling and moving to jobs in sustainable energy.
“We’re already seeing there’s an enormous demand in the renewable energy sector for workers that have those skills. The workers see the demand. They’re interested in moving to this economy,” said Da Silva.
“This plan released today very much supports that and ensures that they are able to move in.”
CEO and president of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) Lisa Baiton said Canadian oil and gas can help meet growing global energy needs while helping to ensure a transition into a lower-carbon economy.
“We need to continue to build on the expertise of our workers and grow Canada’s energy workforce so we can be a preferred global supplier of safe, secure, affordable and reliable energy for the decades to come,” said Baiton.
“With that goal in mind, CAPP will look to engage through the federal government’s process as outlined in the interim Sustainable Jobs Plan.”
The 32-page plan promises a new federal office to help co-ordinate the jobs transition, training and retraining programs, and better data collection to improve what we know about existing jobs and those that will be created in the future.
The federal government said this interim plan is for 2023 to 2025 and that after 2025, new plans will be developed every five years.
Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the plan is a first step toward positive goals the federal government is trying to accomplish.
“This is basically a plan to support employment, to provide alternative jobs and to promote alternative energy,” she said.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) provided feedback on the plan, saying workers must have a seat at the table in the energy transition.
“(The AFL indicated) that government policies focusing on training, income supports and pension bridging are necessary, but they are not sufficient,” said the plan.
The AFL, along with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), wants the federal government to financially support affected communities and individuals through the transition.
Amara Possian, a representative for climate change advocacy group 350.org, said the plan leaves too much room for the fossil fuel energy industry to block progress.
“Taking the climate emergency seriously means no more public money for false solutions like carbon capture, utilization and storage that will only lock workers into the dying fossil fuel era,” she said in a statement.
A report released this month from the International Institute for Sustainable Development — a Winnipeg-based think-tank that focuses on climate and sustainable resource development — concluded carbon capture and storage technology costs too much and takes too long to build to have any hope of helping industry meet Canada’s 2030 emissions reductions target.
“The Trudeau government needs to back up this action plan in the coming months with unprecedented investments in real climate solutions and binding legislation,” said Possian.
Carolyn Kim, with clean energy think tank Pembina Institute, said the plan is the right response to support workers, especially those who have been historically underrepresented in the energy sector.
“We are pleased to see the plan put in place a framework that focuses on provinces and territories,” said Kim.
“This facilitates collaboration across all levels of government and supports provincial and territorial leadership to generate their own regional decarbonization and job training strategies.”
Williams speculated Smith may not be pleased with what’s included in the plan.
“Given that it’s following pretty much on the heels of that letter that was sent by Danielle Smith, this isn’t what she was demanding,” said Williams.
“But again, this is a policy that is extending to the entirety of the country.”
Williams said she suspects negotiations on details between Alberta and the federal government – like Smith demanded in her letter – will not be happening before the provincial election on May 29.
“I think a lot of people would rather that those kinds of conflicts be kept off the front page as people are looking to try to make a decision in the upcoming election,” she said.
— with files from Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press