Liberals table bill aimed at helping workers transition to clean-energy economy

Click to play video: 'Canada’s shift to greener energy faces long road'
Canada’s shift to greener energy faces long road
WATCH ABOVE: Canada's shift to greener energy faces long road – Jan 16, 2023

The fact Liberals are tabling new legislation to force the federal government to create and protect jobs is a recognition that the shift to a clean-energy economy is already happening, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Thursday.

It is not about shutting down Canada’s oil and gas industry, he said.

“I can say that definitively,” Wilkinson said in an interview after introducing the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act in the House of Commons.

Wilkinson said there is room for both in Canada, but the fossil-fuel sector will only survive if it massively invests in technology to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from extracting and refining oil and gas.

That will alone create new job opportunities that will require training and change.

Add in the coming explosion in renewable energy, the demand for new electricity transmission and production and the desire for retrofits to buildings, and the job opportunities are huge, he said.

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The government says a clean-energy economy could create as many as 400,000 new jobs before the end of this decade alone.

The new legislation is designed to set some requirements for the federal government to make sure Canada has a workforce ready to jump into those opportunities.

The bill is heavily bureaucratic. There are requirements the government publish an updated plan every five years on what Ottawa is doing to create and protect jobs in the energy sector, to report on the progress being made and to create an advisory body that would ensure the plans involve input from all involved, including workers and industry.

The specific actions the government will take on jobs are not contained in the legislation.

Some broad ideas for those actions are in an interim sustainable jobs plan the government published in February, including promising new funding for skills development to support a sustainable jobs plan.

Wilkinson also said that the plan will support the implementation of the more than $80 billion in tax credits and investments in clean energy projects that the government included in its 2023 federal budget.

It is unlikely that more specifics will be released before 2025, when the first plan under the proposed legislation is due.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said the key thing for people to know is that the legislation will make sure workers are at the table in any conversation about their future. And that future, he said, is going to be about clean energy.

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“This green industrial revolution that is theoretically talked about is reality,” he said.

“This is happening. The race is on. Right now, companies are trying to decide where to invest and where to build. So today is about setting Canadian workers up to seize those opportunities, so that we can build the electric vehicles and the hydrogen plants and the renewable energy industries that the world wants and wants to build here in Canada. These jobs are on the table and they are good jobs.”

But the legislation has been a political football between Liberals in Ottawa and the Alberta government for months already, with Premier Danielle Smith demanding in February that the promised bill be killed.

She called it “an unconstitutional and existential threat to the Alberta economy and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Albertans,” and said scrapping the jobs transition plan was a “non-negotiable condition” of Alberta investing more for carbon capture and storage in the oilsands.

Wilkinson said he will meet with Smith in Calgary on Monday, with the bill set to be a central part of the conversation.

Click to play video: 'Alberta city could become Canada’s first clean energy boom town'
Alberta city could become Canada’s first clean energy boom town

The proposed law was a key part of the supply-and-confidence agreement the Liberals made with the NDP in 2022, and the NDP was part of the team that developed the legislation over the past year.

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NDP MP Charlie Angus said the bill is much closer to what’s needed than what was in place before, but it still needs some amendments to be clearer about what things like an advisory council will look like and be responsible for doing.

The bill also has a lot of union support with representatives from Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers all joining Wilkinson and O’Regan for the announcement Thursday.

“It’s obvious that there’s been thought and consideration in the development of this bill, as we have been calling for,” said Gavin McGarrigle, the western regional director at Unifor.

“We’re most excited to see the creation of a sustainable jobs partnership council to hear from those who have most at stake. Worker participation will be pivotal to the council’s success, and Unifor expects a seat at the table to share the perspectives of our broad membership.”

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