Coal phase-out task force to consult workers, communities to soften blow

The co-chair of the federal government's new task force on phasing out coal says failing to help workers acquire the skills they need to find new jobs will create resentment among coal workers and in their communities.

McKenna announces task force to meet with those affected by transition to 'clean' economy

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna says that it is her government's goal to "put workers and communities first" as Canada moves to phasing out the production of electricity from coal by 2030. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The co-chair of the federal government's new task force on phasing out coal says failing to help workers in the industry get the skills they need to find new jobs will create resentment among coal workers and in their communities.

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, made the remarks at an event announcing the 11 members of federal government's task force on phasing-out traditional coal power by 2030.

"If you are going to phase these jobs out, you have to take into consideration where these workers find new employment," Yussuff said at the press conference. "What other skills might be necessary to allow them to adjust and adapt to the new reality of life?"

One of Ontario's biggest mistakes when it moved away from the coal industry was its failure to consult workers and communities, said Yussuff.

"What we can learn from Ontario is that they didn't consult workers to ensure that the necessary steps were taken to ensure that there wasn't resentment," he said.

"Many of the jobs in coal facilities and mines are high-paying jobs. These are jobs where families can be sustained and, more importantly, people can have a decent living."

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Yussuff announced the members of the task force responsible for ensuring that Canadians most affected by the coal phase-out have the support they need. The team will spend the rest of the year talking to workers and communities before the Just Transition Task Force delivers its final report to the minister.

The initiative is part of the federal government's plan to eliminate the use of traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030 —which could affect approximately 42,000 people directly and indirectly employed by the coal industry, according to the Coal Association of Canada.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Hassan Yussuff, Just Transition Task Force Co-Chair, discuss how the task force will ensure that workers and communities affected by the coal phase-out will get the support they need. 2:14

Yussuff will co-chair the task force with the executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick's Lois Corbett. The team includes experts in sustainable development, workforce development and the electricity sector and representatives from labour associations, unions and municipalities.

The other members of the task force include: 

  • Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour
  • Mark Rowlinson, executive assistant to the Canadian national director of the United Steelworkers
  • Scott Doherty, executive assistant to the national president of Unifor
  • Tara Peel, the Canadian Labour Congress' national representative for health, safety and the environment
  • Matt Wayland, a media strategist with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Canada
  • Rick Smith, Luduc county councillor
  • Brenda Kuecks, former president of Ecotrust Canada
  • John T. Wright, former president of SaskPower
  • Anna Redden, director of the Acadia Tidal Energy Institute and dean of research and graduate studies and Acadia University

"We want to do this in a thoughtful way," McKenna told reporters. "You've seen other examples around the world where transitions weren't necessarily related to the move to tackle climate change, but workers and communities aren't put first. And our goal is to put workers and communities first as we figure this out."

Transitioning comes at a cost

Transitioning away from coal will have a significant impact on public health, climate change and the economy, McKenna said.

While coal makes up 11 per cent of Canada's electricity supply, it is responsible for 72 per cent of Canada's emissions from the electricity sector.

Most provinces have shut down their coal-fired power plants, but Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick still rely on coal as a source of energy as they work toward the 2030 target. That transition comes at a cost.

Alberta's community consultation committee on phasing out coal provided its recommendations to the provincial government in November. Since then, the Alberta government has established a $40 million dollar fund to support affected communities. It also committed more than $1 billion over 14 years to compensate companies for shuttering power plants.

McKenna said eliminating coal-fired electricity will provide benefits that go beyond the environment, such as savings in health care and opportunities in the clean energy industry.

"We know that the move to clean electricity will lead to more opportunities to be part of the surging global clean growth economy worth trillions of dollars," McKenna said. "[Former governor of the Bank of Canada] Mark Carney has estimated it as a $30 trillion opportunity that Canada wants to lead and take advantage of."

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