I want to take this opportunity to address some comments made in the Jan. 17 Pipestone Flyer article about the coal phase out.
The first fact missing from this story is that the federal Conservative government under Stephen Harper began discussions on closing coal plants in 2006. These discussions continued while Jason Kenney was sitting at the cabinet table.
The plan they brought forward would have seen most Alberta coal plants closed by 2030, and included regulations that would have prevented all Alberta coal plants from converting to natural gas.
But what’s most concerning is that their plan did absolutely nothing to support the affected communities and workers.
It’s the Rachel Notley government that fought to repel Harper-era regulations and ensured Alberta coal plants can continue operating past federally mandated end-dates by converting to natural gas, and ensured protecting some of the jobs that were affected as coal plants transitioned.
But the Notley government didn’t stop there: they brought forward a plan that would support workers and communities in the transition period so that coal communities could continue to play a key economic role in our province’s future – more facts missing from last week’s article.
The Coal Community Transition Fund saw $5 million go to coal communities across Alberta to help with economic diversification. While Parkland County chose not to propose a project to access these funds, it’s important to mention that provincial money was always available to them.
But what is most remarkable in my view is the commitment made by the Notley government to make sure workers weren’t left behind. The $40 million dollar Coal Workforce Transition Fund saw workers receive one-on-one support from Alberta Labour with access to a variety of professional certifications, job matching, and employment placements. Also, $12,000 tuition vouchers are provided to those who want to access retraining. And the bridge-to-retirement relief grants were made easier to access for older workers near retirement.
This provincial government also negotiated extended EI payments for coal workers from the federal government and obtained guarantees from power companies that they would meet their obligations to their employees, such as severance pay and pensions.
These kinds of measures show that the Notley government has the backs of coal communities and coal workers. The impact of phasing out coal would have been severe with the Conservative’s plan – or lack of a community-and-economy focused plan.
Lastly, I do need to address the misconception that Alberta is “buying coal-fired electricity from Montana.” The fact is that’s just not the case. Tonbridge Power started to build the Montana-Alberta Tie-Line (MATL) between Lethbridge and Great Falls, Montana, in 2005, and it was completed by Enbridge in 2013, They explicitly said they were doing so to share low-cost, excess wind energy between Alberta and Montana to ensure those rural communities are less vulnerable to power outages.
Looking to the future, I would rather we create local jobs by producing more wind, solar or gas-powered electricity right here in Alberta.
Rachel Notley has proven that she’s committed to fight for good Alberta jobs and that her government will not let coal communities and coal workers down. That’s what leadership looks like.
Kieran Quirke, Devon
Alberta NDP Candidate for Drayton Valley-Devon