Alberta premier says Ottawa's 'intentions have not changed' as feds release sustainable jobs plan

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she was glad the federal government dropped the term
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she was glad the federal government dropped the term

The federal government released its long-awaited sustainable jobs plan Friday, but the plan failed to ease Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's worries about the consequences for oil and gas workers.

The new report says that the clean energy economy will create so many jobs there won't be enough workers to fill them. The document outlines the interim plan for 2023 to 2025, with subsequent plans expected every five years after 2025.

The plan includes a new government office to oversee the process, training programs, Indigenous consultation and inclusion, and better data to fully understand the jobs that exist now and that could exist in the future.

Ottawa also re-committed to lowering climate targets from the production of fossil fuels. The plan has not faced legislative scrutiny yet — that is expected to happen later this year.

Speaking near Calgary on Friday, Smith said she was glad the federal government dropped the term "just transition," but added that she was disappointed with many of the details in the plan.

"I worry that even though they've changed the words, the intentions have not changed," Smith said.

Kyle Bakx/CBC
Kyle Bakx/CBC

A day earlier, Smith wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an open letter that she would collaborate with Ottawa on certain climate and energy-related initiatives, but with the "non-negotiable" caveat that Ottawa refrains from introducing new federal legislation or policies that would impact Alberta's oil and gas sector.

"We've got their attention," Smith told an audience at an event on Tsuut'ina Nation.

"They know we're angry. They know we're going to push back against them. We will not allow this industry to shut down, but they've come nowhere near to meeting us halfway yet."

In a statement issued later Friday, Smith said the omission of any liquefied natural gas (LNG) strategy in the plan is "nonsensical," and said she would be in contact with the federal government in the coming weeks.

"This continued pattern of unilateral federal action in areas of provincial jurisdiction must stop immediately," she said.

Sara Hastings-Simon, a University of Calgary professor who is also on the board of the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank, said the plan is "pretty high-level," meaning it doesn't include too many details.

Mike Symington/CBC
Mike Symington/CBC

But she added that pushback, namely from Alberta's premier, doesn't reflect an industry reality.

"It's very clear that we are in a world that is undergoing an energy transition. And it's not really a choice at this point at the federal level or at the provincial level as to if there is a transition," she said.

She added that many countries have signaled their intention to decrease their use of fossil fuels.

"I don't want to downplay that difficulty … It is very real and very challenging for people and communities, but trying to sort of pretend it away, or fail to acknowledge that it's happening, just leaves ... those communities kind of worse off," she said.

'Unproven technologies' 

Alienor Rougeot, program manager at Environmental Defence Canada, said the plan is long overdue, and while there are positive foundational elements in the report, she acknowledged that without it being embedded in the law it's hard to know exactly what the plan will look like.

She added that the report leans heavily on relatively new sectors.

"It appears premature and potentially risky to bet so much of Canada's future on some of the unproven technologies such as carbon capture and fossil hydrogen. And that is a real concern for me," she said.

Industry executives have been looking for a more robust commitment from Ottawa to subsidize the cost and operation of carbon capture and storage facilities (CCS), similar to the financial support offered in the United States.

The Alberta government has also touted CCS as key for its development of blue hydrogen from natural gas.

Adam Legge, president of the Business Council of Alberta, said he would "cautiously read (the plan) as an opportunity."

Instead of suggesting Alberta will be left out of the economy of the future, he believes Alberta can capitalize on its wealth of natural resources while also decarbonizing.

"From what our read is, the (federal) definition of sustainable jobs is wide-ranging," he said. "It doesn't look to exclude jobs in areas like (carbon capture and storage) or emissions reduction technology that would be deployed in industries like the oil and gas sector or the agriculture sector."

However, Legge said to be successful, the federal government will have to work with the provinces to hammer out a wide-ranging industrial strategy and keep up with the incentives for clean energy technologies offered by the United States.

"You've got to create the economic base for the jobs to happen, versus trying to skill and train people first and then hoping that the jobs and industries emerge," he said.