Ottawa unveils sustainable jobs plan for energy sector, says it thinks it can get Alberta to buy in

Federal ministers said they’re optimistic about getting a skeptical Alberta government to work with them on a sustainable jobs plan as they put forward a bill Thursday to help create work in clean energy.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson tabled Bill C-50, the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, in the House of Commons. The legislation implements some of the measures the federal government outlined in the interim sustainable jobs plan it released in February.

The bill would create a Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council to advise the government on clean energy jobs, require that Ottawa come up with a sustainable jobs plan every five years, and establish a Sustainable Jobs Secretariat, a new body which would oversee the government’s work on building a clean energy sector.

At a news conference Thursday, Wilkinson said the proposed law would help Canada seize opportunities in areas like renewable energy, critical minerals, biofuels and hydrogen power.

WATCH Natural resources minister meeting with Premier Smith to discuss sustainable jobs

Natural resources minister meeting with Premier Smith to discuss sustainable jobs

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkison says Smith endorsed language on the future of jobs in Alberta ‘that is focused on building an economy for the future and creating good jobs and economic opportunity.’

“Canada is extraordinarily well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that will come through the transition to a low-carbon future … We are advancing a plan for the future. We are not simply hoping for the best,” Wilkinson told a news conference.

“It is complex, and so it should be. It requires that we work together.”

But Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, whose United Conservative Party government was re-elected last month, has claimed the government’s sustainable jobs plan threatens Alberta energy workers. 

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Smith has said her government will provide additional cash to help cut emissions from oil and gas production only if Ottawa scraps the sustainable jobs bill.

Wilkinson said he thinks he can get Smith, and energy workers across Canada, to back the government’s plans.

“At the end of the day, it is going to be those that are producing at very low carbon that are going to be winning in the context of the transition,” he said.

“I think that there are opportunities to work constructively and collaboratively with Premier Smith.”

A woman stands in front of a flag.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has claimed the government’s drive to create sustainable energy jobs is a threat to Alberta’s energy workers. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Wilkinson said he’ll meet with Smith on Monday in Calgary to talk about how the federal government and Alberta can work together on the file.

Randy Boissonnault, minister of tourism and MP for Edmonton Centre, said the government’s plan to get to net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 won’t work without the support of Alberta workers — support he said the government could win through creating opportunities in sustainable employment.

“I think we can follow the money and we see where the investments are going,” Boissonnault said.

“We’re going to keep working to … make sure that workers in Alberta and across the country know that there’s a clear path to a prosperous future.”

Wilkinson said the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act is partly modelled on the government’s Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act because its focus is on ensuring current and future governments are held to account for actions to combat climate change.

The Liberal government has not said how many jobs it expects to create through its plan. It has pointed to a report from the Royal Bank of Canada that says a net-zero economy could create up to 400,000 new jobs in Canada by the end of the decade.

The government has also said that, while there’s concern about the sustainable jobs plan eliminating non-renewable energy jobs, it expects there will be a shortage of workers to fill newly created jobs in renewable energy.

The Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council would be composed of labour, industry and Indigenous representatives appointed on the advice of the natural resources minister. The government said it expects that it will release its first five-year sustainable jobs plan in 2025, should the bill become law.

The non-profit Environmental Defence said it would like to see changes to the legislation as it goes through Parliament.

“With this act, the federal government is making a credible commitment to include affected workers and communities in the preparation for the energy transition,” Aliénor Rougeot, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence, said in a news release.

“However, members of Parliament will need to work together in the coming months to strengthen the legislation and avoid dangerous pitfalls such as greenwashing, ignoring obligations towards Indigenous peoples, and taking a one-size-fits-all approach to the transition.”

NDP, unions support bill

The NDP, which is in a supply-and-confidence agreement with the government in the House of Commons, collaborated with the Liberals on the legislation.

NDP Employment and Workforce Development Critic Daniel Blaikie said the proposed law can benefit workers and communities by creating middle class jobs in clean energy.

“That’s what this legislation is about. We believe there is more work to do but that this is a good start,” Blaikie said at the news conference.

Unions also voiced support for the bill and welcomed its emphasis on input from labour.

Canadian Labour Congress President Bea Bruske said in a news release that the legislation “signals a crucial milestone in our fight against climate change and the protection of workers’ interests.”

The United Steelworkers union (USW) issued a media statement supporting the bill but adding that the legislation as it stands lacks detail.

“Overall, there is a lot for workers to celebrate in the government’s new Sustainable Jobs Plan outlined in this bill, but too many questions still need to be answered before any ‘mission accomplished’ banners can be raised,” Marty Warren, USW national director, said in a media statement.

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