Cold Lake is one of the communities that will be most affected as the country transitions away from fossil fuels. Using census data, a recent report by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives found 16.7 per cent of workers in the city are directly employed by the industry. That’s the second highest in the country and doesn’t include construction jobs and others indirectly tied to the oilsands.
Author Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood notes that the country is facing a challenge, as it’s working to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, while avoiding major job losses in dependent areas like Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“You have environmentalists on one side and you have oil workers on the other side, and they kind of see each other as bad guys; that doesn’t have to be the case.”
Wood Buffalo has 14,200 workers in the fossil fuel industry, giving it the highest share in Canada of more than 31 per cent. Outside of Alberta and Saskatchewan, there are other areas with a high concentration , including parts of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario, as well as Fort St. John, B.C.
Mertins-Kirkwood suggests better policies need to be in place to protect them, as ones like Employment Insurance don’t go far enough.
“Making sure people, even if they are losing their job in the short-term, still have income, still have access to training and other kinds of support so that their families and their communities aren’t negatively impacted in the long-term.”
Mertins-Kirkwood points to a new fund for coal workers announced by the Alberta government, saying it’s a step in the right direction, but should be expanded to apply to all oil and gas towns as well. However, he says there’s still time.
“The timeline is really important, because it’s not as quickly as a lot of people are worried about… By 2030 basically all coal-fired electricity generation will be phased out in Canada, and that means that we have more than 10 years to manage a transition for those coal communities, so this is not happening overnight.”
He adds many workers will likely just retire at that point. For oil and gas towns, Mertins-Kirkwood says they’re likely looking at not being as reliant on fossil fuels by 2050. In the meantime, he says people currently employed should look at what industries their skills could apply to in the future that will be successful in a “low-carbon economy.”
“We can kind of have the best of all worlds; we can move to a cleaner economy but we can support workers and communities while we do it.”