Sustainable Jobs Plan: Albertans pulled out their hair for this?

Sustainable Jobs Plan: Albertans pulled out their hair for this?

A couple of weeks ago, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson warned that the release of the plan formerly known as “just transition” would be not as exciting as hyped.

Perhaps it’s time to paraphrase the lesson Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey gave the world in the most Canadian politics way: When someone tells you how boring they are, believe them.

Friday saw the release of the federal blueprint that Alberta Premier Danielle Smith bombastically said would eliminate 2.7 million jobs. In fact, no employment statuses were harmed by the Sustainable Jobs Plan.

Little else happens, either. No courses are exactly charted to that net-zero future, nor destinies destined.

This exists in the world of frameworks and foundational planning. Secretariats and councils and tables, oh my!

Follow the green-brick road

No phaseout targets or timelines for the oilsands or other sectors in the 32-page document; no universal job totals; no new spending by Ottawa. The main numbers in the report were already well established: net zero, by 2050 — the commitments already made by the likes of the Canadian government and the Pathways Alliance group of oilsands giants.

The plan also includes “sustainable jobs in conventional energy industries, enabling Canada’s producers to be low emissions suppliers of products to a world in transition.” Translation: oil and gas and employees in those sectors have a future, even if projections say far less of the commodities will be needed globally in a net-zero future three decades from now and beyond.

This wasn’t at all the document Smith warned Albertans to brace for, when she told the Calgary Herald last month this was “about eliminating entire sectors of our economy and hundreds of thousands of good Alberta jobs deemed too ‘dirty’ by elites in Ottawa.” Or, according to Alberta Environment Minister Sonya Savage, “a bill that will phase out hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs in the energy sector.”

Subsequent to that initial campaign, Smith and team shifted to more modest calls, mainly to swap out “just transition” for “sustainable jobs.” That had already seemed to be Wilkinson’s intention back in early January, when the Alberta doomsday talk had begun.

Here’s that time Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s resistance to federal encroachments included the extended right hand of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Smith could presumably chalk up Ottawa’s terminology change as a victory, as well as the fact this plan is not a jobs slaughterhouse. Or one could appreciate that this plaintive, framework-heavy plan that punted the real work to future years was always the Trudeau government’s intent — before, during and after Smith jabbed all the panic buttons.

(It’s worth noting that energy company leaders never claimed to be so spooked, there being no election for them to fight this spring.)

These 32 pages of standard-seeming government fare is thick with reiterations of past government accomplishments and plans, including the Sustainable Jobs Secretariat announced in fall’s economic statement.

One could interpret it all as an attempt to rebut Smith’s rhetoric, to further cool tensions, to pull back bedskirts and reveal no green-eyed monster. It also serves as a box-ticking exercise for both the Liberals’ own past platform and the federal NDP, which included just transition legislation in its deal to not topple the Liberal minority government.

Beyond those political aims, it’s a broad-based declaration (if that needed making) that climate change is triggering a major global shift in the fuel we burn, the fumes we spew skyward and the energy we let escape through building crevices. And the Canadian workforce will shift along with that, and maybe it’s worth building bridges to that future so fewer people tumble off a cliff.

From cod to coal to carbon

Canadian memories are understandably bitter, of the cod fishery collapse without a safety net for thousands of Newfoundlanders, or the switch-off of Canada’s coal plants, whose labour impacts Ottawa was unprepared for, according to an audit last year.

Federal officials will say neither issue is comparable to the Sustainable Jobs Plan, because there isn’t a comprehensive shutdown of the oilsands or any other industry.

This would also differ from past transitions because there are at least broad attempts in this case to figure out how to provide well-paying jobs to replace what might be lost over the decades to come.

Alberta and Ottawa have the opportunity to talk to each other to shape such a strategy, if they can set aside other squabbles and find common ground among a slew of other fights at the intersection of climate and energy. Current and future workers may appreciate that.

While no jobs were killed in Friday’s report, no replacement jobs were created either. There’s a promise of more work toward the latter aim by 2025.

There’s also a Liberal campaign pledge, not yet materialized, for a $2-billion “Futures Fund” for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The only certainty in all this is more uncertainty for thousands of workers as trends and government policies hurtle in every direction around them.

Scratch that. The other certainty is more planning to come.

Ottawa will enshrine part of this plan in legislation this spring — the plan to develop a new formal Sustainable Jobs Plan by 2025, then again every five years after that.

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