Rural Municipalities of Association president Paul McLachlin says federal legislation to promote retraining the energy industry workforce for renewable energy jobs has some merit. (File photo by The Associated Press)

Rural Municipalities of Association president Paul McLachlin says federal legislation to promote retraining the energy industry workforce for renewable energy jobs has some merit. (File photo by The Associated Press)

Municipal leader says federal jobs retraining legislation has potential

Alberta premier has panned federal Just Transition legislation as attack on energy industry

Proposed federal retraining legislation pegged as a job killer by Alberta’s premier should not be dismissed so fast, says a municipal leader.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said this week he intends to move forward on his “Just Transition” legislation, which is aimed at helping oil and gas workers move into jobs such as building retrofitting, carbon capture, and mining minerals used in technology, such as lithium.

Premier Danielle Smith was quick to respond, tweeting Tuesday: “The federal government’s ill-conceived and short-sighted plan is extremely harmful to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are supported by the energy sector and will be detrimental to Canada’s economic recovery.”

On Thursday, she continued her attack.

“It has never been more clear. Justin Trudeau intends to shut down our energy industry through something he calls the “Just Transition” plan,” she tweeted.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonja Savage had a similar take, tweeting on Tuesday: “The federal government’s ill-conceived and short-sighted plan is extremely harmful to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are supported by the energy sector and will be detrimental to Canada’s economic recovery.

“We expect the federal government to stand up for our world-leading oil and gas employees, instead of trying to eliminate their jobs.”

Rural Municipalities of Alberta Paul McLachlin said he understands that some Albertans see the legislation as a knock on the province’s premier industry.

“But I think I would probably put a more positive spin on it and look at how changes in the industry will affect the workforce,” he said.

McLachlin said as an environmental consultant he is involved in the renewable and non-renewable energy sectors, from oilsands and coal mine projects to wind projects.

“Energy is energy. It’s the same skill set,” he said.

“Over the years I’ve been able to shift my skills. I go back and forth I work on pipeline projects and I work on wind projects.”

Many others in his industry have done the same. “It’s been quite seamless, to be honest.”

McLachlin said he has spoken to the federal natural resources minister about his intentions with the legislation and believes the government is realistic about the future.

“Wilkinson recognized that there is no way we’re moving away from non-renewable energy sources for at least a generation.”

At the same time, renewable green energy is inevitably going to become a bigger source of power around the world.

McLauchlin said Alberta’s recent boom shows how retraining help may prove valuable.

“Ths boom we’ve been having this last little while hasn’t been seeing the employment increase in the industry because a lot of the industry is moving towards automation.

“It’s really a conversation around how technology and automation and cost-cutting has affected the workforce in Alberta,” he said.

He also knows of many people who have left the oil and gas industry because they are tired of the boom-bust cycles.

“It’s hard to own things when you are part of that drama,” he said. “How many recessions have we seen in the last 40 years — probably eight or nine and most of those driven by energy prices.”

Alberta is well positioned to take advantage of energy opportunities in all its forms, he said. He points out the province has the most engineers per capita of any province and high levels of people with post-secondary education.

“We have a highly skilled workforce,” he said, adding the province produces a huge number of entrepreneurs and innovators.

“We are amazing at what we do and I think we just have to continue on that path and not look at everything the federal government says as an affront to who we are, which is a highly skilled workforce which can solve problems.”



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