A controversial federal bill has the potential to bring renewable energy and agricultural opportunity to rural Alberta, but not everyone is happy with the proposed legislation.
Bill C-50, known as the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, was tabled on June 15 and sets out federal framework designed to retrain and transition workers, and promote economic growth as Canada moves towards a net-zero economy.
“Rural Albertans and Albertans in general, we’re experts in energy. We’re also quite innovative and quite entrepreneurial. I do really see that there’s a significant opportunity here that we can take advantage of,” said Paul McLauchlin, president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta.
If the bill is passed, the federal government will create a Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council (SJPC) that will engage with key stakeholders throughout the country on how to best create and encourage sustainable jobs and support those impacted by the net-zero transition.
A Sustainable Jobs Action Plan will be published every five years starting in 2025, and a Sustainable Jobs Secretariat will be created to “enable policy and program coherence,” across the government and to support the SJPC.
“The legislation starts to have that discussion — what does the future look like? It provides an opportunity to be at the table, while respecting that we’ve got a changing energy mix. There’s an opportunity for us to be at the front of the conversation,” said McLauchlin.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has been critical of the bill and what it could mean for energy jobs in Alberta.
“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,” she said in a press statement released last week after the bill was tabled.
On June 19, Smith along with Brian Jean, minister of energy and minerals, and Rebecca Schulz, minister of environment and protected areas, met with the federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and federal Intergovernmental Affairs, infrastructure and Communities Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
During Monday’s press conference, Smith said they spoke to the federal ministers about this “Just Transition” legislation.
“We knew by using that (Just Transition) language, that it set the expectation of phasing out oil and natural gas workers completely. We told them that’s not on. We are going to be phasing out emissions. We are not going to be phasing out oil and natural gas jobs. And they seem to have acknowledged that with their legislation that came forward. That includes opportunities for us to invest in carbon capture, utilization and storage, hydrogen, LNG export, and those are the things that I think we could find in common,” she said.
Smith also took issues with the federal government’s previously proposed oil and natural gas emissions cap and 2035 net-zero power grid regulations. In a news release, she said these regulations “would damage the Alberta economy, cause significant job losses and scare away billions in investment dollars.”
McLauchlin said he would like to see the conversation on Bill C-50 “delink from the climate change goals” and move towards a discussion around future energy opportunities.
“There’s conversations around transition so it politicizes the transition conversation, which is occurring, regardless of policy pieces coming out of both the federal provincial governments, this is a worldwide trend in all the energy mix across the world,” he said.
Albertans are leaders in conventional oil and gas, said McLauchlin, but Albertans are also leaders in the renewable file.
“Alberta is booming, as it relates to renewables both in wind and solar, and will continue to do so,” he said.
McLauchlin would like to see what the potential funding would look like, and has criticisms about the bill, including how vague it is and the way it has been attached to other policy pieces.
“This should be standalone. This shouldn’t be tied to net-zero … It should talk about sustainable jobs in general because it’s not just the energy transition. It’s (also) automation,” he said.
Dr. Ellen Goddard, an agricultural economist at the University of Alberta, said she would have liked to have seen an explicit recognition of the agricultural sector in Bill C-50.
“I would have liked to have seen a little bit more recognition that these transitions in the workplace are happening in agriculture as well. I would have liked that, but given that Alberta is not so positive about the legislation at a general level, maybe they weren’t pushing for that,” she said
Goddard said there’s a lot of change going on in society that will include changes in the demand for people with education and training and skills in certain areas as we deal with climate change, and she thinks it’s good the government is making a commitment to the process of transition.
“If we looked at it holistically and thought about where we can contribute to helping them create more sustainable jobs and a more sustainable economy in the face of climate change, maybe we could see some positives in the fact that other industries may or may get to access this funding and improve longer-term job opportunities, new job opportunities in their sector. But the debate just seems to focus on that energy sector too, without addressing some of those other potential opportunities,” she said.
Goddard spoke about concerns before the pandemic related to the transition to automated labour in manufacturing and food processing.
Automation was implemented as pandemic concerns mounted without so much concern over what would happen to the workforce, said Goddard, and if we had been more prepared for the change, the transition may have been more productive.
“(This transition is) happening, regardless of climate change, and climate change is going to be a big one, if we’re going to be able to deal with it productively. I think it’s a good thing that the government’s seeing the need for transition funding,” she said.
Goddard said the agricultural sector “gets both sides of climate change,” as it has the potential to change what we produce and where we are producing it.
“I think there’s enormous demand for new jobs, better training (in the agricultural sector,)” said Goddard.
That demand includes in areas like record keeping, research and training infrastructure for technologies including machinery and biotechnologies, and jobs in monitoring farming and the impact farming has on biodiversity and ecosystems — which could be positive on emissions.
“If we’re going to protect the environment for the long run, we know that greenhouse gas emissions are not the entire story. But does the public really understand that?
“When I was talking to people about ecosystem services, they kept saying that we’re so far away from being able to really reward individual property owners for their contribution to ecosystem services. You must have a baseline. Somebody must go out and measure a baseline of what’s going on in a particular property, so that you can get paid if you either maintain it or improve it,” she said.
But people measuring the baseline of properties and their contributions to the environmental sustainability would need to be trained and those jobs would need to be created.
“There’s the potential for an opportunity as a country, we’d be worse off if our government didn’t recognize the need for some of this kind of support. Throughout Europe and other countries, governments are investing in these sorts of transitions to see if they can improve their environmental footprint in the face of climate change. We don’t want to be left behind.
“But when you’re dealing with people, we have to recognize that it’s scary. It’s threatening in a way and hopefully some of these resources are going to recognize direct ways of supporting people through these things that are going to be challenging,” she said.
By Jessica Nelson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 29, 2023