Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan says Canada needs more oil and gas workers and that he doesn’t like the phrase “just transition.”
“I’ve said this for years,” said O’Regan in the Senate Question Period on Feb. 9.
“‘Just transition’ is a phrase that workers hate, and my constituents don’t like, and so I don’t like it either. We tried, anyway, within the bureaucracy and amongst ourselves to say the words, ‘sustainable jobs.’”
The former natural resources minister was responding to Sen. David Wells who asked him how the phasing out of the oil and gas industry is “just” for the potentially affected workers in Newfoundland and Labrador where his constituency is based.
Under the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, the Liberal government had committed to implement “a just transition of the workforce to a lower-carbon economy.”
“This is not about phasing out the oil and gas industry,” said O’Regan, as first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter. “All of it is about the emissions.”
The minister went on to say the sector will not face elimination any time soon.
“The oil and gas industry will be with us for quite some time, and I would argue proudly so,” he said. “I am proud of what we have done in this country and what workers have accomplished in this country.”
O’Regan told the Senate that oil and gas workers are very much needed to “lower emissions.”
“What we have managed to do as our government is sometimes—frequently—isolate the very people that we need to lower emissions and build up renewables, which is the workers of this industry,” he said.
“I need more workers in the oil and gas industry, not less. We need more.”
O’Regan’s testimony appeared somewhat different from the message of a federal briefing note, titled “Key Messages on Just Transition,” that was sent to incumbent Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson on June 1, 2022.
“The transition to a low carbon economy will have an uneven impact across sectors, occupations and regions and create significant labour market disruptions,” read the note that estimated over 2.7 million Canadians would be affected.
The memo referred to five sectors expected to experience “larger scale transformation.”
The building sector, which employs about 1.4 million workers, and transportation, which has about 642,000 workers, will be most impacted. These were followed by the agriculture sector, 292,000 workers; energy, 202,000 workers; and manufacturing, 193,000 workers.
Skills requirements for “green jobs” will vary, according to the memo, ranging from those that require “extensive green skills or knowledge” such as being an “environmental impact assessor,” to those that need no green skills at all—“ie. janitor or driver working for a solar energy company.”
In early January, Wilkinson said the federal government will be looking to move forward with its “just transition” legislation this year, which intends to help workers in the oil and gas sector move into green energy jobs.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith responded on Jan. 17, saying in a tweet that “Alberta’s energy industry & our workers are world-class.”
She followed up with a video post on Jan. 19, saying that the “extreme green environmental movement” wants to use the Liberals’ proposed “just transition” legislation to shut down her province’s oil and gas industry.
Sen. Donald Plett asked O’Regan if he would listen to the oil-and-gas-producing provinces, particularly Alberta and Saskatchewan, and “put this ridiculous notion of just transition where it belongs, in the garbage bin.”
O’Regan did not comment directly, but said he represents a province that produces oil and gas.
“It is a good question, senator. I’m not sure how it relates to my last answer, which I couldn’t be clearer about,” he said.
“I am a member of Parliament from an oil-and-gas-producing province.”
Peter Wilson contributed to this report.