Coal-fired electricity and coal mining has been a mainstay of many regional economies in Alberta over the last 60 years.
In 2014, 55 per cent of Alberta’s electricity came from coal with the province operating 18 coal-fired power plants including two in our Riding; Sheerness in Hanna and Battle River Power in Forestburg. Employing 4,200 people across Alberta and over 42,000 directly and indirectly throughout Canada, the phasing out of these industries will have significant ramifications. It is therefore, absolutely imperative that representation from Hanna, Forestburg and other Alberta coal-based communities be included in any discussions or on any task force designed to identify challenges and to handle the transition including new employment and re-training for local displaced workers. Unfortunately, the Liberal government apparently does not agree.
On April 25th the federal government announced the members of the Just Transition Task Force. According to the government’s news release, the purpose of the task force is, “to provide the government with expert advice on how to make that transition (for coal workers) a fair one.” Furthermore, a “just transition includes involving workers and their communities in decisions that would affect their livelihoods, identifying and supporting economic opportunities for the future, and helping workers and communities to succeed and benefit from the transition.” Despite this assertion, only one member of the newly formed task force represents an affected community.
Rick Smith, a Leduc City councillor has been appointed to the task force as have an additional 10 people with outstanding qualifications. Without in any way disparaging those selected, I strongly believe that at least half of the appointees should have come from the most affected areas as opposed to only one in 11. Currently, five out of the 11 representatives are from Ontario; two from Toronto, two from Ottawa and one from St. Catherines while only two are from Alberta.
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Parkland County partnered with Leduc County, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain to commission an independent study on the socio-economic importance of this sector to these communities. The findings revealed that the three power plants and two coal mines in this area: employ (directly) over 1,600 people; support or induce another 2,100 plus jobs; contribute $280 million annually to the regional economy in terms of gross domestic product; contribute $130 million in labour income within the region; pay almost $20 million in annual property taxes to Parkland and Leduc Counties; contribute (directly and indirectly) to a wide range of community-based programs, services and infrastructure; and provide an important source of off-farm income for many farming and ranching operations in the region.
Sixty per cent of Forestburg’s economy is based on the coal industry. Eighty people are employed at the Battle River Mine and another 100 at the power plant. Welding shops, restaurants, retail stores and numerous homes were built in the mid 1950s when ATCO first came to the area. Those businesses and the people they employ will indirectly be impacted by the loss of coal-related jobs. Similarly, Hanna’s economy is tied to Sheerness where 200 plus people are employed at the generating station or coal mine in well-paying jobs.
The Town of Hanna has hired a private consulting firm to measure the impact of the loss of these jobs which was originally going to occur in 2040 but is now going to happen before 2030. While I recommend this impact study be shared with the task force, I also implore the Liberal government to either replace some of the appointees or add representatives from Hanna, Forestburg, Parkland, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain. Those closest to the situation are the best placed to help these communities succeed in this transition. If you agree, I would encourage you to pass this message to Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment at Catherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this or previous columns you may write me at 4945-50th Street, Camrose, Alberta, T4V 1P9, call 780-608-4600, toll-free 1-800-665-4358, fax 780-608-4603 or e-mail Kevin.Sorenson.email@example.com.