Workforce training support not about killing oil: minister

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The release of Stats Canada’s stellar Labour Force Survey on Friday, showing 337,000 jobs created in February couldn’t have come at a better time as federal cabinet ministers are fanning out across the country to talk about what the workforce will look like in a net-zero economy.

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The release of Stats Canada’s stellar Labour Force Survey on Friday, showing 337,000 jobs created in February couldn’t have come at a better time as federal cabinet ministers are fanning out across the country to talk about what the workforce will look like in a net-zero economy.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan held a roundtable discussion with labour leaders in Alberta earlier this week and is in Winnipeg on Saturday to do the same with labour and sector leaders.

In an interview with the Free Press, O’Regan was adamant that Ottawa’s $1 billion in workforce training and support for workers including those in sectors undergoing transitions, is not about killing the Canadian oil industry, which he boasted was the fourth largest in the world.

Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Labour. (Paul Daly / The Canadian Press files)

O’Regan took umbrage at the politicization of the initiative and specific accusations that some made against him in Alberta that he was out to end oil.

“I have never talked like that,” he said. “Where I come from in Newfoundland and Labrador, we rely on oil and gas royalties even more than they do in Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

O’Regan also bristles at the use of the terminology “just transition” that the federal government is using in its discussions about the development of the kind of jobs that will be needed in the coming net-zero economy.

“Our focus in on emissions,” he said. “We just have to figure out how to lower emissions.”

O’Regan’s stated support of the country’s oil and gas industry while also advocating for the lowering of emissions might be hard for some to square, but his point is that the oil and gas sector will remain vital for some time to come.

Rather than “just transition” he prefers to just talk about “sustainable jobs”, like the ones created by the Cowessess First Nation 165 kilometres east of Regina that he visited this week where they have built a 10 megawatt solar power farm.

“It made my heart warm to see the pride on their faces,” he said.

There are many who believe that employment in the alternative energy industries will blossom in the coming years and the current spike in gas prices at the pump has emphasized the attractiveness of those new opportunities.

“Gas prices hit $2.00 per litre this week in Newfoundland,” he said. “Suddenly alternatives start to look better.”

Ottawa is preparing legislation that will create a support mechanism for the creation of these sustainable jobs (or the “just transition”) and O’Regan and others are talking with stakeholders across the country.

In Winnipeg he will be meeting with Bea Bruske the president and CEO of the Canadian Labour Congress and Kevin Rebeck president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour as well as Reg Helwer, Manitoba’s minister of labour and officials from Manitoba Building Trades.

As part of these consultations, the government is accepting written comments until April 30, 2022, at just-transition-equitable@nrcan-rncan.gc.ca.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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