Where is Alberta gov’t plan for coal communities?
Over the past year-and-a-half, Canada’s coal communities have heard that the industry that has sustained their families for generations needs to be phased out.
In the name of good government, the province promised that these communities would not be left high and dry – though they claimed that’s what the federal government had just the intention of doing. There would be jobs, they said, retraining, and subsidies for local economic diversification.
Most recently, coal communities and specifically coal mine workers, were invited by Shaye Anderson, Minister of Municipal Affairs, to a telephone town hall to discuss the impact of the coal phase-out on miners and the mines they work in. Minister Anderson did his best, but what becomes clear is that this government has no plans for its coal miners or its coal communities.
As people pleaded for more information about what would happen to a life that includes family farms and local businesses, the minister could only utter rote responses, reassuring them that they were, in fact, going to do something and there would be jobs but that any tangible solutions would be coming from the Coal Communities Panel Report, which was due in early 2017 (per the website), and we’re assured will be submitted soon-ish.
The phase-out of coal power has been compared to the highs and lows that follow any resource industry, whether it’s oil, mining or forestry. But in none of those cases have the lows been caused by government regulation.
To try to empathize with miners in this way is so disingenuous, it’s silly. To further pin this on the federal government is comical – as we know, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia were able to receive exceptions to the new regulations, something Canada may have been eligible for if they had bothered to ask.
Most of this government’s talking points have been about power generation so far, so they are eager to pivot to the plan several power companies have to retrofit to natural gas generation.
Of course, Minister Anderson also reassured listeners that they would ensure the government would press the coal companies to ensure they lived up to their pension obligations, but seemed to miss the fact that it’s not the lost pensions people worry about – it’s the lost pension contributions; that is to say, the loss of potential.
The vague promises of job retraining and grant opportunities underestimates the value this industry has in communities. No subsidy, grant or job retraining program can replace the dignity that comes from having a secure job that allows you to provide for your family and make a meaningful life for yourself. Out of this dignity, comes respect, for yourself, your community and your government.
What is fundamentally not understood by this government is that shutting down the power plants is shutting down the coal mines in these towns.
How’s that for respect?
Robin Campbell is president of the Coal Association of Canada. He is also a former Progressive Conservative environment and finance minister. (Editor’s note: This biographical tagline was edited to include Campbell’s political background.)
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