The Green Party of Canada is endorsing the work of a task force formed by the Trudeau government to phase out coal power nationwide by 2030 and help workers transition to new jobs, but wants to take the plan a step further.
Party Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday that the Greens fully support all 10 recommendations made by the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, which released its final report on coal workers and communities this spring.
At an event in Vancouver on Wednesday, joined by Green candidates from around British Columbia, May said she'd like to implement a similar process with a panel to visit communities dependent on oil and gas.
May said her plan is to ensure no workers are left out of work as the energy industry changes. “We are not at war with fossil fuel workers,” May said. "We are not willing to leave any part of Canada or any community behind."
National Observer has reported that the task force exclusively researched conditions for coal workers. It recommended a large range of actions, such as $300-million to create a jobs bank, as well as community supports such as transition centres where workers can find information on jobs and training.
The report also found many coal workers felt mistrust for the government, and doubt in its abilities to fulfill promises of a stable transition.
May said visiting communities helped address that mistrust, and will do the same for people in oil and gas. "There's more trust in honesty. We can say this is the plan, this is the timeline, and how much time do you need to adjust? What are your needs?" she said. "Empowerment and agency are the things that remove fear for all of us."
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She said planning for transitions, as well as oilsands cleanup, should start sooner than later, or else it could result in rushed, inadequate government assistance.
"We have to plan for the cleanup," she said. "The same guys who drilled the oil wells can help us in reclaiming abandoned oil wells to geothermal power producing."
While the Liberals have talked about their coal phase-out and transition plan for years, the government never announced any plans for transitioning workers out of the oil and gas industry. Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi reacted to the Greens’ announcement with a statement on Twitter welcoming the Greens' support.
“As Canada moves away from the use of coal, we are making sure we leave no worker or community behind,” the minister tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
“We will work to keep these communities strong; investing $185 million in new training, infrastructure and economic diversification. As we fulfil this commitment, we welcome the support of the Green Party and their endorsement of our Just Transition report.”
Boilermakers, pipe-fitters and electricians
May said her party’s plan includes jobs for boilermakers and pipe-fitters in geothermal energy, as well as 20,000 electricians to create an all-electric energy grid across the country.
Jim Lofty, business manager at Local 213 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said people in his trade have already been planning for this transition for some time.
"In terms of training, I hope we're ahead of the curve on that," he said. "But we would be very open to getting infrastructure money or training funds from the government to help."
He said electricians, as well as people in other trades, are planning ahead for shifting to renewable energy, and in some ways, they're "waiting for the government" to catch up. He estimates the country is still 25 to 30 years away from turning off the taps.
To Lofty, the Liberals and other parties have been optimistic in allocating funding to projects and promising training, but these measures are often aspirational.
"I think those goals should be set, I'm not saying they shouldn't be saying it, but you're not going to be able to affect that change immediately," he said.
He said he understands some workers' anxieties, and people worry about "falling through the cracks" and not getting access to training or finding jobs that can promise them the same security.
"It's one thing to say we're going to give you millions of dollars. It's another thing to actually get it implemented and actually see the results of that."
When I was travelling around
When I was travelling around North America a lot working for a large wind-energy company (around ten or twelve years ago), many of my co-workers in western Canada had fully-transferable skills in heavy stationary machinery, electrical generators and industrial hydraulics, first learned in the oilpatch. They didn't even need any re-training; they could immediately use their existing skills and just jumped at the chance to be working in a field that they felt better about.
Similarly, down in the US many of my colleagues had acquired such skills and training in the US Navy or Air Force or Coast Guard.
For some of them, the toughest part was getting used to standing out on the roof of a turbine 250 or 300 feet above the ground, and stepping out over empty space to the nosecone hatch... but they had already been climbing derricks, and they knew all of the safety gear and procedures that went with doing it right.
My point is that of course, *some* fossil-fuel workers are going to need a transition/retraining plan. But many of them probably won't at all; they already have the transferable skills, and we should be careful not to be too scary and OVER-estimate the costs of that necessary transition to renewables.
Good practical comment by one
Good practical comment by one who knows from experience. I'm very wary of any government using funds to retrain anyone unless alternative industry is encouraged.
I only hear this dialogue from the Greens.