Plan for a transition

Climate change is real — at least for Unifor, a union representing 12,000 oil patch workers.

Many Conservatives recently declined to support their leader Erin O’Toole’s when he proposed that climate change is a reality, But Unifor’s oil patch workers not only agree with O’Toole about climate change. The union has actually called for a very ambitious climate target —a target even bigger than the Liberal government’s. Prime Minister Trudeau just announced a new target of 40 to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. Unifor wants to see a full 60% reduction by 2030.

Unifor’s members see the future — and it is green.

But these workers also want real help in making the difficult transition to a lower carbon economy. Since 2019 an estimated 180,000 oil and gas workers have lost their jobs. Many more jobs will evaporate in coming years—potentially as many as 450,000 jobs by 2050. These highly skilled energy workers shouldn’t have to go it alone as they look for work in the new lower carbon economy.

The recently announced federal budget—with its emphasis on creating clean-tech jobs and and building carbon-reducing infrastructure—provides a great opportunity to smooth the road for workers leaving the oil patch. (See infrastructure.gc.ca on planned infrastructure projects.) The government can now take steps to invest in alternative industries like wind and solar, for example, and to locate them where possible in oil-and-gas based communities. It can also stimulate growth in other sectors. Unifor suggests, for example, that more jobs should be created in fields like care services. And the federal government can provide benefits and funding for retraining programs as workers transition away from oil and gas.

The Liberal government has promised a “Just Transition Act,” and the federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan says he is “fully committed” to it. It’s time to act on that commitment. It’s also time for provincial governments —Alberta in particular — to face reality. Premier Kenney and his party should quit burying their heads in the oil sands. They, too, should see that the future is green and commit to a humane, caring and necessary job transition strategy. Their fellow Albertans’ future is at stake.

To leave oil patch workers to fend for themselves is hurtful and unjust. It’s time to plan for their successful transition into the new green economy.

Diane Eaton, Kelowna

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