Liberal minister says Canada needs 'more oil workers' despite push for 'just transition'

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says a 'just transition' bill may 'slip into the next quarter.' However, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan told the Senate on February 9 he 'can’t stand the phrase just transition.'

Liberal minister says Canada needs 'more oil workers' despite push for 'just transition'
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang (Left Image), Facebook/Trans Mountain (Right Image)
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On February 1, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Ottawa would soon show Canadians its plan to transition to a net-zero economy. Despite outcry from Alberta and Saskatchewan, they have ramped up their efforts to table 'just transition' legislation.

On February 17, the federal government released its long-promised plan to transition to a low-carbon economy without prompting massive unemployment in the country's energy towns.

Wilkinson said a 'just transition' bill would be secondary to the action plan and would likely become public by the end of March, though it may "slip into the next quarter."

However, Liberal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan told the Senate on February 9 he "can't stand the phrase 'just transition.'" 

"'Just transition' is a word workers hate, and my constituents don't like it, so I don't like it either. We tried anyway within the bureaucracy and amongst ourselves to say the words' sustainable jobs.'"

"I've said this for years," said O'Regan, as reported by Blacklock's Reporter.

It emerged from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a divisive international climate change treaty that advocated economies move from high-carbon industries to green economies to combat climate change.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith condemned Ottawa's support for an energy transition that she said would significantly impact employment in her province.

"According to your government's predictions, the federal 'just transition' initiative alone will risk 25% of Alberta's economy," Smith penned to Trudeau in a letter.

Allied Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also condemned the push for a greener economy at the expense of regional industries.

Leger's executive vice president for central Canada, Andrew Enns, said Smith and Moe "weighed in pretty vigorously" on their perspective concerning the "just transition," resulting in greater awareness from those two regions.

In September 2021, Ottawa committed to establishing a $2 billion futures fund to support resource-rich provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan "grow new job opportunities" in green energy as Canada moves to reduce emissions.

"It's a pretty big policy initiative in terms of a fairly transformative change of what our Canadian economy has been based on — probably since we became a country — regarding natural resource extraction," added Enns.

Albertans are far more likely to have heard of the 'just transition' than other provinces, said Enns, with nearly one-third (32%) of residents knowing the 'just transition; and what it would mean for their province.

According to a Postmedia-Leger poll, 84% of Canadians do not know what 'just transition' means.

Of the 16% of Canadians who have heard of the just transition plan, 36% believe it will lead to permanent job loss, while 32% think it's unequivocally "anti-Alberta." 

Of all Canadians, Québecers are the least likely (9%) to perceive the plan as anti-Alberta, compared to nearly half (46%) of Albertans.

According to a leaked federal memo, 'just transition' legislation could impact up to 187,000 workers in the province's agriculture, energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

"Canadians thrown out of work by climate change programs can always get jobs as janitors," it reads. It also claims "some green jobs will not require workers with green skills to perform their jobs, such as a driver working for a solar energy company."

According to the report Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy by the Environment Commissioner last April, climate programs threaten 170,000 jobs in oil and gas. 

In testimony last June 2, O'Regan told the Commons Natural Resources committee that Canada needed more oil and gas workers, not less.

"Honestly, we have to keep people in the industry," he said. Ottawa estimates it must expand the oil and gas workforce by 13%.

"The Canada Occupational Projection System projects 14,000 job openings in the oil and gas extraction industry excluding support activities."

"I need more workers in the oil and gas industry, not less," said O'Regan. "We need more."

Wilkinson's 32-page plan claims Ottawa would "create so many jobs there may not be enough workers to fill them" through training and retraining programs. It also claims that Canadians must 'accept' that demand for oil and gas will drop sharply.

"We will not be shutting down our oil and natural gas industry. We will not be transitioning our workers in good, high-paying meaningful, important jobs into installing solar panels," responded Smith.

"Alberta is a province that makes money," she said, accusing her federal counterparts of "virtue signalling to an extreme base that openly advocates shutting down oil or natural gas."

"This is not about phasing out the oil and gas industry," added O'Regan. "The oil and gas industry will be with us for quite some time, and I would argue proudly."

"I am proud of what we have done in this country and what workers have accomplished," he said.

"You know, some 30, 40 years ago, we asked workers in Saskatchewan and Alberta to figure out how to get oil out of the sand and by God, they did it. We are the fourth biggest producer of oil and gas in the world. That is a remarkable accomplishment."

However, the leaked memo states Ottawa could eliminate upwards of 2.7 million jobs nationwide across several sectors.

Alberta offered Trudeau a revived partnership in January to signal to Canadians and investors that both governments are cooperating to decrease carbon emissions, utilize and develop carbon capture facilities, increase liquefied natural gas exports, and develop other technologies as resource-rich Alberta diversifies its energy economy without phasing out entire sectors.

"Operating in political silos, as adversaries on this issue, is getting us nowhere, and I believe all Canadians are tired of seeing it," penned the premier in a letter to the prime minister.

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