Al­berta puts up $40M to help work­ers tran­si­tion dur­ing coal-power phase-out

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - BUSINESS - DEAN BEN­NETT

ED­MON­TON — Al­berta is putting aside $40 mil­lion to help work­ers los­ing their jobs as the prov­ince tran­si­tions away from ther­mal coal mines and coal-fired power plants over the next decade.

Labour Min­is­ter Christina Gray said the money will top up ben­e­fits to 75 per cent of a worker’s pre­vi­ous earn­ings dur­ing the time they col­lect em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance.

She said Al­berta is also ask­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to not claw back ex­ist­ing ben­e­fits as the prov­ince tops up those EI pay­ments, while also ex­tend­ing EI ben­e­fits for re­tir­ing coal work­ers.

“Our gov­ern­ment is go­ing to pro­vide work­ers with in­come sup­port,” Gray said Fri­day. “We need the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment pol­icy flex­i­bil­ity so that our sup­port can be more ef­fec­tive.”

The prov­ince es­ti­mates there are 2,000 work­ers af­fected, with lay­offs start­ing in the new year.

Gray said even if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment does not step up, the prov­ince will pro­vide the funds to match that 75 per cent thresh­old.

“This in­come would in­sure that work­ers are bet­ter able to sup­port their fam­i­lies as they tran­si­tion to new em­ploy­ment train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties or re­tire­ment,” said Gray.

The money will come from Al­berta’s car­bon tax.

There will also be help for work­ers from ex­ist­ing pro­grams.

Gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ta­tors will meet with work­ers to link them up to sup­ports and other ser­vices.

Vouch­ers up to $6,000 over two years will help cover the costs of post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, like tu­ition, books and fees.

There are also third-party re­train­ing pro­grams and pro­fes­sional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cour­ses.

The changes will supplement the new Coal Com­mu­nity Tran­si­tion Fund, which fo­cuses on strik­ing part­ner­ships and di­ver­si­fy­ing the econ­omy in Al­berta’s coal com­mu­ni­ties.

Al­berta, un­der its Cli­mate Lead­er­ship Plan, is phas­ing out coal-fired elec­tric­ity and mov­ing to re­new­able and nat­u­ral-gas gen­er­ated elec­tric­ity by 2030, align­ing closely with a sim­i­lar dead­line set by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Op­po­si­tion United Con­ser­va­tive Leader Ja­son Ken­ney crit­i­cized the an­nounce­ment on Twit­ter, writ­ing: “Or­wellian lan­guage from the NDP. Labour min­is­ter tells coal work­ers ’we have your back’ while de­lib­er­ately killing their jobs.”

Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Deron Bilous fired back, not­ing that Ken­ney was in the cabi­net of then­prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper in 2012 when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment be­gan ap­prov­ing reg­u­la­tions to end coal-pow­ered elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tion at some Al­berta plants.

“Our reg­u­la­tions af­fected the clo­sure of six out of 18 coal-fired plants,” said Bilous.

“The Harper gov­ern­ment brought for­ward reg­u­la­tions that will see 12 of the 18 coal-fired fa­cil­i­ties close ... with zero sup­ports for work­ers (and) zero sup­ports for the com­mu­nity.

“They phased them out and es­sen­tially turned off the lights and turned their backs on the work­ers.”

POST­MEDIA FILES

Trucks at the Dodds Coal Mine load up on Coal in 2016. Al­berta, un­der its Cli­mate Lead­er­ship Plan, is phas­ing out coal-fired elec­tric­ity and mov­ing to re­new­able and nat­u­ral-gas gen­er­ated elec­tric­ity by 2030.

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