OP-ED: Just transition isn’t progress

This opinion piece by MP Matt Jeneroux was published in the Edmonton Journal on January 19, 2023. 

Justin Trudeau and his national resources minister have been sugar-coating their just transition plan, making it sound like an easy and painless economic transformation that will simply waltz away from oil and gas towards alternatives such as wind and solar.

Many Albertans have remained highly suspicious, but few could say they saw it coming when a government document revealed the actual scope of change Trudeau intends to impose on Canadians.

These uncovered department speaking notes for the minister of natural resources acknowledge there will be “significant labour market disruptions” in nearly all sectors — about 2.7 million workers, almost 14 per cent of Canada’s entire workforce in all parts of the country, will have their jobs disrupted.

The memo goes on to recognize that the impact will be particularly heavy in oil-and-gas provinces, especially Alberta and Newfoundland, and the hit of “large-scale transformation” will even extend to agriculture, another major sector in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Transforming oil workers into janitors might be an overstatement of the prime minister’s intention, but it will nevertheless be naive to believe that this change wouldn’t doom a major segment of Canada’s workforce to a dramatic, or even permanent, transition for the worse.

No wonder the federal government has been working so hard to keep Canadians in the dark on what they are actually planning and on how many workers and families they are ready to sacrifice in the thick of the current inflation crisis. My office has received an incredible number of emails and phone calls from Edmontonians over the last year voicing intense objection to the rushed and haphazard approach the government is taking.

Just transition consultations have been so insufficient, it makes one wonder if the government is really interested in any feedback. For example, many Indigenous communities who have benefited and want to benefit further from Canada’s oil and gas industries were ignored and shut out.

Oil and gas sectors employ more First Nations people than any other industry in Canada. However, while Indigenous communities are looking to make important ownership investments in oil and gas and green technology, the government is prematurely and arbitrarily deciding they want to phase out and wipe this industry off the map.

If Canada stops providing oil and gas, many countries, including Canada itself, will need to procure energy from Russia, the Middle East or Venezuela. What contribution would we be making to the worldwide carbon-reducing mission? Are we literally saying we don’t care how dirty imported oil and gas is as long as it is not produced here? What message would that send on how much Canada values countries’ human rights records?

Just transition initiatives will only move Canadian jobs to become more dependent on foreign entities directing Canadian subsidiaries. This is not progress.

We have all seen how European countries’ heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas has backfired. More importantly, the just transition has unjustly ignored the fact our energy industry is at the start of an energy transformation. Transition is already occurring in our natural resource industries through advanced technology and economic efficiencies.

Our energy sector is leading the world in environmental performance and has shown the best outcomes in reducing its environmental footprint, including greenhouse gas emissions. We have every reason to believe that, if the federal government does not overreach to prevent it, market forces will drive Canada’s oil and gas companies to pioneer technologies that aim to extract fossil fuels carbon-free and then recycle or sequester the carbon that results when the fuels are used.

Development and export of world-leading environmental technologies should be our focus. Our energy industry also contributes over $100 billion annually to Canada’s balance of trade and pays approximately $30 billion (net) annually to governments across Canada to fund various social outcomes. Our energy sector has been priming the pump for our economy and social welfare. Any party elected should be supporting, not kneecapping, it.

Our land is blessed with natural advantages we need to humbly and gratefully build upon. Our policies should allow our energy industry to continue its innovations and world-leading environmental outcomes. As the world is now pivoting to burning more high-carbon coal, Canada’s competitive advantage in clean gas and in the technologies to develop, compress it, and sell it to a world that wants to buy it should be seized upon.

It’s time for the federal government to transition away from its own political agenda and prioritize Canadian economy, families, and international responsibilities.

Matt Jeneroux is MP for Edmonton Riverbend and shadow minister for Supply Chains.

The Edmonton Journal