Ottawa must scrap polarizing term 'just transition': Alberta environment minister

Alberta Environment Minister Sonya Savage, left, has criticized Ottawa's 'just transition' legislation, calling it 'extremely harmful.' Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, right, wants to 'dial down the political rhetoric.' (Todd Korol and Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Alberta Environment Minister Sonya Savage, left, has criticized Ottawa's 'just transition' legislation, calling it 'extremely harmful.' Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, right, wants to 'dial down the political rhetoric.' (Todd Korol and Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Alberta's environment minister says Ottawa must stop using the term "just transition" because she believes it is shorthand for phasing out Canada's oil and gas industry.

"The problem with the just transition, it's a polarizing term," Sonya Savage said. "And they've been using it."

Savage told CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday that the Alberta government and Ottawa agree on many things, including reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector. But she said while the federal Liberals have "walked away" from using the "divisive term," it's still being used on Natural Resources Canada's website.

"Just transition" is a concept that emerged from the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change. The goal is to reduce the harm to workers caused by economies moving from high-carbon activities into the green economy.

Some, including Alberta's environment minister, believe it also signals the sunset of the oil and gas sector.

"It means phasing out fossil fuels immediately, keeping it in the ground," Savage said. "Even more than that, it means restructuring societies and economies and redistributing wealth."

For Alberta, she said, "it's a non-starter."

WATCH | Alberta says 'just transition' bill has polarizing name: 

Responding to the Alberta government's latest comments, federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the federal government has no intention of shutting down the province's oil and gas industry.

The Liberals promised during the 2019 election campaign to "move forward with just transition legislation." Wilkinson said he now prefers other language. But his department's website hasn't reflected the change.

"The term I prefer to talk about is sustainable jobs," he told CBC News. "This is about creating a future that will create good, well-paying jobs and economic prosperity in every region of this country."

WATCH | Natural resources minister says there's a future for oil and gas production: 

Wilkinson and others believe the world is undergoing a massive wave of industrialization as it seeks to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming to 1.5 C compared with pre-industrial levels. The minister worries there will be too many jobs and not enough workers.

"I said it many times publicly that I do not believe that the challenge we are going to face is that there are workers who are displaced that will not find other good-paying jobs," Wilkinson said in a previous interview with CBC News.

"I am actually quite worried that there are so many opportunities ... we will not have enough workers to fill the jobs."

The minister downplayed any disagreement between Ottawa and the Alberta government. He said he didn't want to "besmirch" his Alberta counterpart, saying he has had productive conversations with his peers in the Prairies.

When Alberta talks about the economic opportunities for the future, Wilkinson, said, it often talks about developing biofuels, hydrogen, small modular reactors, carbon capture, utilization and storage of critical mineral extraction, and processing. He said those are the same areas of development that the federal government has been discussing.

At the same time, he said, the federal government's relationship with Alberta hasn't "always been peachy and rosy."

Screenshot/Natural Resources Canada
Screenshot/Natural Resources Canada

In reality, there's a lot everyone agrees on, he said, adding that there's no disagreement with the science of climate change.

"I honestly think it would behoove us all to dial down the political rhetoric," Wilkinson said. "Let's figure out how we actually move forward on all of these areas where I don't think there's much in the way of disagreement."