March 1, 2024

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Ottawa introduces sustainable jobs bill for energy worker transition

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Ottawa introduces sustainable jobs bill for energy worker transition

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he plans to meet Alberta Premier Danielle Smith Monday

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The federal Liberals introduced their new ‘sustainable jobs’ legislation on Thursday intended to aid workers transition careers to jobs more consistent with a net-zero economy.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson introduced Bill C-50, an act respecting accountability, transparency and engagement to support the creation of sustainable jobs for workers and economic growth in a net-zero economy, in the House of Commons early Thursday where it passed first reading.

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The bill, also known as the sustainable jobs act, mandates the federal government create a transition plan for workers every five years, starting in 2025.

Wilkinson cited minerals, hydrogen and biofuels as examples of potential new sustainable opportunities that could be fostered through the legislation.

“It’s also about ensuring the relevance of Canada’s conventional energy resources as we move through what is a decades-long transition,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it is going to be those that are producing at very low carbon that are going to be the winners in the context of the transition.”

He went on to call the bill “a thoughtful plan” and a preferable alternative to “hoping for the best” when it came to climate change.

The environmental and economic risk of non-action “pretends that climate change is a fad that will fade and that we really don’t need to do anything in order to keep our economy healthy for the long term,” he said.

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“There are major opportunities that are available if we are thoughtful and we are strategic.”

Wilkinson told The Canadian Press in an interview that the bill is not about shutting down Canada’s oil and gas industry.

“I can say that definitively.”

Five-year plans

The bill also requires a mid-term report on those five-year plans with the first scheduled to be delivered in 2028.

It builds on measures outlined in the federal government’s interim sustainable jobs plan that was released in February.

Those measures include creating a sustainable jobs partnership council to provide the government with independent advice on encouraging sustainable job creation.

Members will be appointed on the advice of cabinet based on knowledge and expertise criteria set out in the bill.

It also calls for the creation of a new agency, the sustainable jobs secretariat, to monitor the federal government’s efforts toward a clean energy sector, but it does not specify the exact measures the government will take on jobs.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said the bill ensures workers will be kept top of mind amid a clear energy transition that he said has already started.

“This is happening. The race is on. Right now, companies are trying to decide where to invest and where to build.”

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The government claims the bill follows 18 months of consultations with industry groups, provinces, Indigenous groups, and labour unions.

In its briefing materials, the federal government cited a Royal Bank of Canada estimate that building a net-zero economy could create as many as 400,000 new jobs in Canada by the end of the decade.

Premier Danielle Smith, federal minister to meet Monday

Wilkinson said he is scheduled to meet with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith in Calgary on Monday and is optimistic the two sides can work together.

“I think we have reason to believe that all provinces and territories can embrace the work that we are doing to build a prosperous economy for the future,” he said.

“There are opportunities to work constructively and collaboratively with Premier Smith and I look forward to the conversation.”

Liberal Edmonton-Centre MP Randy Boissonnault said the new bill is an important step forward.

“We’re gonna keep working to get it through and make it better and make sure that workers in Alberta and across the country know that there’s a clear path to a prosperous future.”

Smith has already characterized the plan, previously referred to as a ‘just transition,’ as a threat to the province’s energy industry and its workers.

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“‘Just transition’ isn’t about a transition at all,” she said in January. “It’s about eliminating entire sectors of our economy and hundreds of thousands of good Alberta jobs deemed too ‘dirty’ by elites in Ottawa.

“I will fight this debacle of an idea with every tool at Alberta’s disposal, and I hope other provinces will stand with us.”

Smith’s office issued a statement later Thursday calling for mandatory, multiple Alberta government appointments be made to the partnership council.

It also states that emissions reduction technologies mean oil sector jobs are sustainable jobs “and will continue to be so for many decades and beyond.”

“This must be clearly recognized by the government,” it states. “Alberta will not recognize, cooperate with or enforce any attempt to phase out our province’s oil and gas industry or its workforce. This is non-negotiable.”

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley issued her own statement calling the act “a missed opportunity” amid “billions of dollars in investment looking for decarbonization opportunities.”

“Alberta must create the stability and certainty to capitalize on that investment,” she said.

“We can remain a leader and export that expertise to the world, but we must act together and we must act now.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

[email protected]

Twitter @ByMatthewBlack

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