Ottawa tables 'Just Transition' legislation to create 'sustainable, low-carbon' jobs

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith pledged to protect Alberta's interests against the 'Just Transition.' She did not rule out using the Alberta Sovereignty Act to challenge federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

Ottawa tables 'Just Transition' legislation to create 'sustainable, low-carbon' jobs
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby, AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Facebook/Jonathan Wilkinson
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After tabling 'Just Transition' legislation last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put another nail in the coffin for Western resource economies.

On Thursday, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Bill C-50, the Sustainable Jobs Act, provides "new opportunities" for workers in critical minerals, biofuels and hydrogen development as Canada looks to turn the page on conventional oil and natural gas.  

The bill will establish a sustainable jobs secretariat to ensure 'coherent and consistent policy' and publish action plans every five years, starting in 2025. Its framework includes a 10-point plan to create sustainable jobs in every region in Canada.

On February 17, Ottawa pledged to develop its Sustainable Jobs Action Plan over the next two years in close collaboration with provinces and territories and industry partners to guide efforts over the coming years.

The 32-page action plan proclaimed it would "create so many jobs there may not be enough workers to fill them" through training and retraining programs. Though it contends Canadians must 'accept' a sharp drop in demand for oil and gas moving forward.

Speaking to reporters, Wilkinson said Canada's economic future depends on the government making "smart choices" and positioning itself as a world leader in sustainable jobs.

"Global financial markets are driving many of these changes, with investors looking to steer away from investments that are not consistent with the low carbon future," he said.

"Successful businesses must learn to adapt to changes in the business environment. It's what their shareholders expect and what their employees depend upon."

On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith pledged to protect Alberta's interests against the 'Just Transition.' She did not rule out using the Alberta Sovereignty Act to challenge federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.

"We have to fight it with every power we have," she said. "The constitution is pretty clear that Alberta has the right to develop its resources in its way."

According to a leaked federal memo, a 'Just Transition' could affect upwards of 187,000 workers in Alberta from the agriculture, energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

However, the natural resource ministry claimed the memo did not constitute policy and was taken "out of context." 

Smith added she is willing to work with Ottawa, but not at the expense of Alberta's economy. 

Recent estimates suggest a production cap on oil and gas would lead to $45 billion in revenue losses for the industry in 2030 alone, leading to a significant drop in government resource royalty and tax revenue.

Absent phasing out oil and gas, these emissions targets could decrease Canada's GDP by $196 billion in 2050.

In 2021, Ottawa enacted the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act with the lofty expectation of reaching 'net-zero' emissions by 2050. Under that, Canada passed an interim plan, the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), which has measures that specifically target oil and gas emissions.

"The ERP, as previously outlined by the federal government, would be a policy package of economic destruction to the Alberta and Canadian economies, unlike any previous federal policy in our province's history," said Smith.

The premier denounced the 42% emissions reduction by 2030 as unachievable — the same with a 'net-zero' electricity grid by 2035. 

She referred to the "arbitrary target" as unviable without significant production cuts that would devastate the Canadian economy and "freeze tens of billions in energy investment overnight."

"Don't try to accelerate if the technology isn't there and the timeline is too fast," according to Smith.

According to the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) report, transitioning to a 'net-zero' grid would cost between $44 billion and $52 billion over the next decade. However, power generation costs would exceed $92.2 billion during the same period.

"I've set an emissions reduction target of 2050," said Smith. "I believe the Supreme Court will side with us."

At the Global Energy Show, Smith said she focuses on creating jobs, wealth, investment and prosperity. She also committed to further diversifying the economy and reducing global emissions.

The premier extended the olive branch for Trudeau to consult the provinces on that plan by cordially inviting him to meet with her in February. She said a revived partnership signals to Canadians and investors that both governments will cooperate to decrease carbon emissions but not abandon liquefied natural gas exports (LNG) in diversifying Canadian energy.

"This LNG export strategy, combined with the accelerated proliferation of CCUS, small modular nuclear reactors and other clean technologies, will achieve Canada's emissions reduction targets by themselves while maintaining growth in the energy industry for decades. The omission of any LNG strategy in this plan is completely nonsensical."

Smith condemned the "dysfunctional communication by the federal government," claiming that should it continue to strain its relationship with Alberta, it would not meet its 2050 emissions targets.

"Alberta has not been involved in any such approvals nor included in the development of the plan published," said Smith on February 17.

"It's important that we collaborate," concurred Wilkinson, adding, "We certainly are going to be reaching out to encourage our provincial or territorial colleagues to work with us on building these plans."

"Fighting climate change and reducing emissions, but at the same time being cognizant that as a major oil and gas producer, we have to be thinking about building an economy that's going to provide jobs and economic opportunity for Canadians," said the natural resource minister.

"Canada can choose to be a leader in the context of moving forward, or we can effectively stick our heads in the sand and decide that we will let the world pass us by," he said.

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