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PAINFUL TRUTH: Change is coming, ‘just’ or not

If you fight the just transition all the way, you’re going to lose
A dump truck works near the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta on June 1, 2014. Thirteen years after Canada first signed an international agreement to eliminate “inefficient” government subsidies to the fossil fuel sector, and four years since launching a peer review with Argentina to identify what subsidies exist, the federal government is still working to define what an inefficient fossil fuel subsidy actually is. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The other day, I was running errands and I noticed the truck parked next to mine was a little odd looking.

It was a Ford F-150 Lightning, one of the new battery electric vehicle (BEV) models that just became available starting a few months ago.

You can’t swing a cat around here without hitting a Tesla or a Kia Soul EV.

The transition to EVs is now well and truly underway here in Canada, with government incentives and deadlines to end the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles already in place. Everything from buses to delivery vans to trucks are going to switch.

This is plainly obvious to everyone paying even the slightest bit of attention.

Except for the political leadership of Alberta, who apparently believe we are all going to keep burning oil until the last wells run dry.

That’s why the top politicians in Alberta – including Premier Danielle Smith and NDP leader Rachel Notley – are taking turns bashing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government’s “just transition” legislation, which is expected to hit the House of Commons in the near future.

What could have aroused such ire?

Well, the idea behind a “just transition” is that someday, sooner rather than later, we’re going to pump less oil and gas. And then we’re going to stop extracting it entirely. Y’know, because extracting and burning fossil fuels is cooking the planet, which is where we keep all our stuff.

But the oil sands of Alberta – not to mention the gas and oil fields of B.C., Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland – provide scads of well-paying jobs. Thousands of families depend on that income.

So a just transition would be a shift in the economy, ensuring those workers aren’t simply dumped on EI and left to fend for themselves as the oil economy winds down during the next 20 years or so.

Having been offered help keeping workers in Alberta employed, Smith et al have started screaming bloody murder.

“‘Just Transition’ isn’t just about phasing out fossil fuels and shutting down energy economies – it’s about radically restructuring societies,” Smith tweeted hyperbolically.

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Alberta officials have also been screaming that the plan aims to eliminate 2.7 million jobs in Alberta, which would be impressive, since there aren’t that many people currently employed in that province, period.

For well over a decade, people from environmentalists to economists to politicians have been saying that Alberta – and Canada – need to plan for a post-oil future.

If you think all the 25 to 35 year olds working in the oil and gas industry now will retire from that industry at 65, you’re dreaming.

We need a strategy to help them keep financial stability.

Will it be the Liberals’ just transition? Maybe not, their plan might be terrible.

But if Alberta refuses to take part at all, the chances increase that the just transition won’t work.

Actual leaders face reality, they don’t pretend the future isn’t coming, and fast.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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