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The “Just Transition” Soviet style plans for Canada’s oilpatch


6 minute read

From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Brian Zinchuk

The “Just Transition” legislation currently before the House of Commons Natural Resources Committee mentions unions a fair bit. It also mentions what are effectively five-year plans, which was a common practice for molding the economies of the Soviet Union and China, during their darkest years.

However, outside of big-inch pipeline construction, refining and the oil sands, there’s simply aren’t that many unionized companies in the oilpatch, at least in Saskatchewan. As in, next to none in the Land of Living Skies.

The legislation is question is Bill C-50, the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act. The act is meant to assist workers in what the federal government had previously referred to as a “just transition,” away from fossil fuels-related jobs towards more “sustainable jobs.” It will create a “Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council” to draft five-year plans to do just that.

The Act’s full name is “An Act respecting accountability, transparency and engagement to support the creation of sustainable jobs for workers and economic growth in a net-zero economy.”

Specifically, Sec. 7 (a.) of the legislation focuses on unions. It says the Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council’s responsibilities include “advising the Minister and specified Ministers on strategies and measures to encourage growth in good-paying, high-quality jobs — including jobs in which workers are represented by a trade union — in a net-zero economy.”

That council also is supposed to have a balance of members who represent labour, Indigenous organizations and industry.

The thing is, there are no unions on drilling rigs. Or service rigs, for that matter.

I asked Mark Scholz, president of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors (CAOEC) about this on Nov. 10. He said, “We do not have any unionized drilling or service rigs operating in Western Canada. Most of the oil and gas industry unionization is in the Alberta oilsands or LNG construction in British Columbia. As well, there are some drilling rig platforms operating off the coast of Newfoundland.”

He explained in Alberta and Saskatchewan, on service rigs, drilling rigs and directional drilling, there are no unions representing workers. And the CAOEC represents the companies operating almost every rig working in the oilpatch.

“In the drilling and service rig industry in Western Canada, there are no unions. That is just a simple fact,” he said.

Indeed, in 15 years of covering the Saskatchewan oil industry, and five years building pipelines prior to that, I’ve only encountered unionized workforces at the Regina Co-op Refinery Complex, and in big-inch pipeline construction contractors working for TC Energy, Enbridge, TransGas and Alliance Pipelines. I was one of those union pipeline workers.

But I’ve found them nowhere else, although there may be one unionized electrical firm operating in the Saskatchewan oilpatch.

Unionized labour is prevalent in the oil sands, however.

The legislation says this Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council must present an action plan by Dec. 31, 2025, and every five years after that. The government would also for a “Sustainable Jobs Secretariat”

Its role would be “enabling policy and program coherence in the development and implementation of each Sustainable Jobs Action Plan, including by coordinating the implementation of measures set out in those plans across federal entities, including those focused — at the national and regional level — on matters such as skills development, the labour market, rights at work, economic development and emissions reduction.”

It would also support the preparation and track the progress of the five-year plans, coordinate specific federal-provincial initiatives related to the plan, and provide administrative and policy support to the council.

For those who might not know their history, five year plans were a primary feature of economy of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and the People’s Republic of China under Mao Tse-tung. They were the primary instrument for central planning of the economy in each of those nations, often resulting in massive transformations of industries and workforces, something the “Just Transition” legislation is designed to do – transform the oilpatch workforce into “sustainable jobs.”

The first Soviet five-year plan concentrated on developing heavy industry and collectivizing agriculture – directly leading into the Holodomor and the starvation of millions. My family was fortunate enough to get out of the Polish portion of Ukraine in 1930, just before the Holodomor began across the border in Soviet Ukraine in 1931.

This “Just Transition,” and its fitting upcoming five-year plan to totally revolutionize one of our key primary industries and workforce borrows just a little too much from history. We saw how that worked out.

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online, and occasional contributor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Premier Smith reacts to Liberal Government’s announcement on new methane reduction targets at COP 28

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Federal methane emissions targets: Joint statement

“Once again, the federal government is setting unrealistic targets and timelines. Infrastructure can only be updated as quickly as technology allows. For example, Alberta will not accept nor impose a total ban on flaring at this time, as it is a critical health and safety practice during production. Any regulation that completely prohibits this is putting lives at risk”

Premier Danielle Smith and Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz issued the following statement on the federal government’s proposed methane emissions regulations:

“The federal government has unilaterally established new methane emissions rules and targets to help win international headlines. Instead of building on Alberta’s award-winning approach, Ottawa wants to replace it with costly, dangerous and unconstitutional new federal regulations that won’t benefit anyone beyond Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault’s post-office career.

“Managing emissions from Alberta’s oil and gas industry is our constitutional right and responsibility, not Ottawa’s, and we are getting the job done. Using a province-led approach, Alberta has already reduced methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 45 per cent – hitting our target three years early – and we’re just getting started.

“Meanwhile, not only is it illegal for Ottawa to attempt to regulate our industries in this manner, Ottawa also hasn’t even hit one of its past arbitrary and unscientific emissions targets largely because it has little to no credible expertise regulating the natural resource, agricultural and other industry sectors in this space.

“Ottawa could have helped us keep reducing emissions with joint incentive programs in line with Alberta’s Emissions Reduction and Energy Development Plan. It could have listened to the Supreme Court’s declaration that the Impact Assessment Act was unconstitutional and abandoned this kind of arrogant and ineffective scheme. Instead, these new regulations threaten our successful province-led approach and impede good work that’s already underway.

“Once again, the federal government is setting unrealistic targets and timelines. Infrastructure can only be updated as quickly as technology allows. For example, Alberta will not accept nor impose a total ban on flaring at this time, as it is a critical health and safety practice during production. Any regulation that completely prohibits this is putting lives at risk. A total ban would also be costly, resulting in shut-ins and loss of production.

“This approach will also cost tens of billions in infrastructure upgrades, yet Ottawa has provided virtually no financial support to do so. Thousands of Albertans could be put out of work in the coming years due to these costly regulations. A federal government willing to invest $37.7 billion into just three battery plants in Ontario and Quebec cannot credibly refuse to provide tax credits and financial incentives for producers in Alberta and Saskatchewan to assist with achieving a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

“For years, Alberta, not Ottawa, has done the hard work and achieved results. We strongly support reducing methane emissions and have invested tens of millions into developing these technologies. Minister Guilbeault must work with us, and not against us, to keep cutting methane emissions and charting a course for carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Given the unconstitutional nature of this latest federal intrusion into our provincial jurisdiction, our government will use every tool at our disposal to ensure these absurd federal regulations are never implemented in our province.”

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Alberta’s Methane Target Reached Early

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Gas processing plant in northwest Alberta, courtesy of EnergyNow


Courtesy of ENERGYminute
See more articles and infographics from ENERGYminute HERE

In a pat-yourself-on-the-back moment, Alberta’s oil and gas industry successfully achieved a 45 percent reduction in methane emissions, surpassing the province’s mandated target ahead of schedule.

Background: Alberta was the first province in Canada to commit to a 45 percent reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 2025, based on 2014 levels. Spoiler alert: Alberta achieved its methane mission three years early.

  • Their targeted approach to reducing methane emissions from flaring, venting and fugitives has become an example globally, earning national and international awards for its effectiveness and cost-efficiency.

Alberta strong: The government credited the early success to close collaboration with the industry, implementing early action programs such as carbon offsets, tough regulations for all facilities, and enhanced leak detection and repair methods.

Minister of Environment Rebecca Schulz highlighted that this made-in-Alberta approach not only achieved the goal three years ahead of schedule but also resulted in roughly  $600 million in savings for the industry compared to the proposed federal program.

Getting the job done: Alberta allocated $57 million from the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction fund for methane emissions programs, including:

  • $25 million in rebates to companies adopting emissions reduction equipment.
  • $17 million supporting alternatives to detecting and quantifying emissions.
  • $15 million to help small- and medium-sized operators assess methane reduction opportunities.

Overall, the initiatives eliminated 16.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere.

Looking ahead: Alberta is committed to building on this momentum and collaborating with industry experts to determine the next steps in their emissions reduction journey, aligning with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

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