Alberta Environment Minster Sonya Savage (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Sonya Savage is an intelligent woman with an impressive resume in government, the legal profession, and the energy industry.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson (Photo: JonathanWilkinson.ca).

So presumably Alberta’s environment minister understands just how bonkers it makes her sound to be heard saying publicly that “just transition” is a polarizing and divisive term that Ottawa must stop using this instant.

But this is Premier Danielle Smith’s Alberta, and you have to make certain sacrifices if you want to stay in her cabinet, and sounding as if you’re halfway bonkers is presumably just part of the job description. 

In case you doubt me, here are Ms. Savage’s own words, as transcribed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “The problem with the just transition, it’s a polarizing term. And they’ve been using it.” 

“They,” of course, are those Liberal villains in Ottawa, whose nefarious leader, the “drama teacher” known as Justin Trudeau, bought Alberta a pipeline to the West Coast and is, as we speak, spending almost $13 billion to make it bigger. 

Ms. Smith’s United Conservative Party is running against Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals for re-election because that’s safer and easier than running against the actual Opposition here in jealously sovereign Alberta, the New Democratic Party led by Rachel Notley.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Ms. Notley has had no problem resisting saying really dumb stuff like this, so that’s a challenge for the UCP.

In other words, this entire controversy is being ginned up by the folks who brought us the “Sovereignty within a united Canada Act” as part of its performative phoney war with Ottawa.

According to the logic of sovereignty within a united Canada, Ms. Savage, who used to be the energy minister when Jason Kenney was premier, could fairly be described as the “environment within a captured petrostate” minister.

As an aside, in a rapidly heating world governed by sensible people, being moved from the energy ministry to the “environment and protected areas” portfolio should be considered a promotion. Of course, in Alberta, especially Ms. Smith’s Alberta, it was the opposite. 

I mention this only because it seems to have been a slow weekend for news, so the use or misuse of “just transition” to describe how to manage the move away from an economy heavily dependent on energy derived from fossil fuel to something more sustainable has become Canada’s manufactured controversy du jour.

Alberta Opposition Leader and former NDP premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As the CBC explained: “‘Just transition’ is a concept that emerged from the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change. The goal is to reduce the harm to workers caused by economies moving from high-carbon activities into the green economy. Some, including Alberta’s environment minister, believe it also signals the sunset of the oil and gas sector.” (Emphasis added.)

Sunset? “It means phasing out fossil fuels immediately, keeping it in the ground,” Ms. Savage clarified.

It means no such thing, of course. It means, for the lack of better words, a “just transition” for oil and gas workers when the inevitable transition comes. 

It doesn’t mean waiting for the “market transition,” which is what happened to Alberta’s still-plentiful supply of beaver pelts some years ago, rendering that resource almost worthless to anyone but beavers. 

“Even more than that,” Ms. Savage went on, “it means restructuring societies and economies and redistributing wealth.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

Now wouldn’t that be awful! Alas, it doesn’t mean that either, as Ms. Savage, I am certain, knows perfectly well. 

Sometimes in journalism it is necessary to make people who are saying things that are completely ridiculous sound as if they are being sensible, usually owing to the official position that they occupy. The CBC story quoted above is a textbook example. 

Regardless, just to show that any phrase can be made to seem controversial by the nattering nabobs of right-wing political correctness (when they are not complaining vociferously about the scourge of alleged political correctness by people who think we ought to speak in ways that are considerate of one another), Ms. Savage also admitted in the same interview with the national broadcaster that the federal government has stopped using the phrase.

Just to be perfectly clear about this, then, Ms. Savage is demanding that Ottawa stop using a phrase that Ottawa has already stopped using because, according to her, it is “a non-starter” here in Alberta.

“Mikey” (Photo: Screenshot of Quaker Oats advertisement).

It is, however, still on a Government of Canada web page, so that’s good enough to wind everyone up on a slow post-holiday weekend. 

As a result of the brouhaha, federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says he’d rather call it “sustainable jobs.”

Well, I’ve got news for Mr. Wilkinson: This is Alberta, and we’re the Canadian equivalent of Mikey.” We hate everything!

So we’re going to hate sustainable jobs, too, because that suggests that the fossil fuel industry isn’t sustainable, and that means that we ought to be thinking about a just transition.

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42 Comments

  1. I have my reservations about Just Transition. It sounds a bit patronizing and idealistic. Even though I believe we do need to make a transition to more sustainable energy, it is not going to be easy. I think Just Transition reeks too much of don’t worry about it, things will be fine. As Chantal Hebert interestingly pointed out, it reminded her of the Just Society. As I might have said riding in my parents car around that time – are we there yet? However, I think this sovereignty within a united Canada thing is way dumber.

    Maybe its actually a good sign to be arguing about semantics and I think the reasonable sounding Mr. Wilkinson is on to something. I’m good with Sustainable Jobs. If that doesn’t work for Smith and her motley crew, then perhaps that is a clear sign they are the ones not being reasonable.

    In the end I recall Mikey ate the healthy cereal and liked it, but of course that was a nice ad story from a company that had a product to sell. So it will probably be too much to hope for that Smith will like it with a better presented name, but I’m willing to give it a try.

    1. Yeah, the term “just” transition is kinda high-falutin’ but then, it comes from one a’ those Davos meetin’s. You know, the ones where rich guys (and a few gals, I reckon) plan out how they’s gonna look after the whole world. Fer sure weuns cain’t git it right ourself. Mebbe this time we’ll git a Justin Transition to thet Just Society, like his daddy planned fer us. I dunno, I’m jest sayin’.

      (With apologies to David Drake, for borrowing heavily from his novel “Old Nathan.”)

  2. Chuckling— methinks you’ve just undermined Doreen Barrie’s article in the Tyee– “What Canadians need to understand about Albertans”— somehow “we hate everything ” isn’t quite what she had in mind. But then again having been born & raised in Alberta and moving away eventually, I’m not sure exactly who her target audience was supposed to be.???
    S.Savage demanding that Ottawa, not use words— I was under the impression that the sovereignty act meant Alberta could &would ignore anything they didn’t like coming from Ottawa…. well so much for that…
    And coming on the heels of PP quoting Voltaire in defence of JPeterson for freedom of expression or whatever that was supposed to be , it’s really hard to keep up with swing directions.

    Hey Mikey, you like it!!!

  3. Yeah, I don’t know that she has the intelligence you ascribe.
    She’s certainly held some high-end positions in the petro-biz and the petro-state apparatus controlled therein.
    I suspect her success in this jurisdiction is more attributable to those characteristics typical of workers in the petro-industry; obedience, connections and slavish obeisance to the dead and historic concept of robber capitalism.

    1. lol I WISH robber capitalism was dead and buried. Only reason I don’t advocate for bringing out the guillotine and making every billionaire on earth a head shorter is cause I know how the French Revolution played out. That said, given that wars are fought for control of resources, if we were to, hypothetically, declare war on billionaires, we’d need to kill approximately 3,000 people and their heirs, and would free up an estimated 4.45 trillion dollars. Personally, I think that would be the most ethical war in all of human history.

    2. Yes, it’s hard to respect Savage after her lies about the Allan Inquiry results. There is also the fact that she was a member of the newly elected UCP government when it gave billions to the oil industry which used that money to automate so it need hire fewer employees. Maybe now she is desperate to avoid having that unjust transition pointed out.

  4. The whole notion of “just transition” boils down to this: just as 120 years ago we saw rapid expansion of automobile manufacturing & sales, putting buggy whip makers out of work, we’re now at the beginning of a global market shift away from burning fossil fuels to generate heat & electricity & to move vehicles around. If governments & the private sector back in the early years of the 20th century had provided retraining & relocation assistance to buggy whip makers put out of work by the auto industry, that would have been a “just transition”. (Of course that isn’t what actually happened, but that’s the model).

    No government told manufacturers to stop making buggy whips — indeed, a few probably continued making them for the much smaller market amongst hobbyists, harness racers, & Pennsylvania Amish. It was market forces. And it’s market forces that are gradually reducing demand for oil & gas around the world.

    1. I agree, Jerry. In addition to buggy whip manufacturers, you could also add coal miners, who were suddenly unemployed when railroads switched to diesel-electric from coal. They would have welcomed some form of ‘just transition’, but instead they got nothing, as far as I know.

      I do wonder how similar people’s switching to electric cars will be similar to our switch to digital cameras. When digital cameras first came out, some people bought them just so they could be on the cutting edge. As time went by, more people bought them – certainly first time camera buyers did, when doing so would free them of film & processing costs.

      Throughout the process I resisted; I was a serious amateur photographer, and I didn’t think digital could match what I could capture on film. Eventually, however, I relented, simply because it was getting harder and harder to find film. Sadly, the switching process required me to throw away a perfectly working SLR camera.

      Back to electric cars, people wanting to be on the cutting edge are already buying them. What I expect will happen next is that owners will start reporting some of the positive aspects of electric vehicles. While range continues to be a problem at the moment, plugging in the car every night will mean no more annoying trips to the gas station, and I really expect there to be less maintenance/repair issues, since electric vehicles don’t need oil changes, they don’t really have transmissions to malfunction, and brakes will last longer because light braking is done through regeneration rather than pad wearing. Perhaps most importantly, electric motors are more reliable. When is the last time your mix-master failed to start?

      So once the electric vehicle transition starts, people will have several non-environmental reasons to choose electric over gas, which will leave only the internal combustion engine loyalists, determined to never change, just like I was with film. I expect they too will change when it gets to be too difficult to find places to buy gasoline.

      A big difference between cars and cameras, though, is the fact that cars wear out. Thus, every 15 years or so, a motorist will have to renew their gas/electric choice when they buy their next vehicle.

      In this context we see our beloved provincial government sticking their fingers in their ears and making some kind of noise to drown out talk of the the impending change.

      1. Don’t forget the firemen who shovelled the coal on those trains, Bob. Many were working their way up the ranks to becoming a locomotive engineer, until companies like CP Rail dumped them unceremoniously into the cold winter with no offer of redeployment. Fathers with mouths to feed and babies on the way got no sympathy and not a dollar on the way out. A just transition, or any transition would have been welcome.

    2. Hi jerrymacgp. It wasn’t just whip makers who were unjustly displaced, and it wasn’t unfair in only the one direction. I recall a very grainy old newsreel that showed a Model T driver on a country road. He’d stopped at an intersection, and (as per the rules) honked the horn twice; stepped out into the mud (more than ankle deep); then fired a shotgun into the air—twice. This to warn anyone riding or driving a horse that the infernal device at the corner would be coming his way. The unfairness, along with snide remarks (“Get a horse!”) gradually turned in favour of car owners, with results we live with to this day.

      The modern equivalent, for us PV panel owners, is the “interconnection agreement” contract. Mine with Epcor states that I can’t sell my house without the express, written consent of Epcor—because I’m selling electricity from my solar panels to the grid. At least they’re nice enough to promise consent “will not be unreasonably withheld.”

      (PS: buggy whips are indeed still being manufactured. So are various types of horse-drawn vehicles. Driving is pretty popular among some of us horse lovers. There are even international competitions.)

    3. Jerrymacgp: You make a good point. It took about 20 years (1910-1930) for N America to transition from horse & buggy to gas powered transport. Every town that had a stable, saddlery, farriers, buggy wheel truers, suppliers of oats & hay, etc had to make way for gas stations with tune-up, oil change & tire mechanics, etc. The oil & gas industry was able to convince the world that this was the way to go. Now in AB, Smith’s govt is digging in its heels against the inevitable change to renewables, that much of the oil & gas folks have accepted.

    4. One thing’s certain. The UCP are chasing horses that have left the barn again. It’s as if they suddenly woke up and realized that people are training for trades in solar and wind energy. Young people in their mid-20s are already retraining in fields that didn’t exist when they graduated from high school — something with a future! Naturally, the UCP brain trust has declared, “We must stop this, and instill a sense of hopelessness and a lifetime of struggle in the gig economy. We must ensure a generation of servitude to corporate overlords in an economy where daily struggle is the norm, instead of a living wage or better.” The young people aren’t having it. They’re smarter than that. So whatever the UCP does to destroy their futures, it’s too late. The kids won’t put up with it. The UCP chases horses while a new generation is building spaceships to the moon — no, Mars and beyond!

    5. In a way, this is the best advertisement for alternative energy careers ever. If the UCP is trying to stop it, it must be good. Hey, kids, train for jobs of the future in alternative energy! Sign up now!

  5. Even if this has ended , it is not over.
    Expect a shower thought ‘lil pp revelation word play about how this is really thievery justin transition.
    Many miles yet to be made with the Q crowd.
    Love Cherokee Dani and her “I think I heard words, does that mean something?” look.

  6. Language matters. The vast majority of those termed “oil/gas workers” are actually construction workers working in the oil/gas sector on capital projects. With automation and after decades of belt-tightening it takes surprisingly few people to keep existing production facilities in operation.
    The welder working on a pipeline can easily transition to welding on a wind turbine tower. Most engineers and tradesmen have skills in demand by construction projects in any sector. However, even though the welder is working on a “sustainable” wind turbine, this is still construction and the job is only sustainable as long as we are building more wind turbines. Just like the fossil fuel sector, there are not all that many employed in the ongoing operation of a wind or solar farm and over time they will make this equipment more reliable and there will be fewer jobs yet.
    I don’t see the transition from oil/gas to “sustainable energy” as really much of a transition at all for the workers. Alberta booms today when there is a bunch of capital money being spent in the oil/gas sector and will boom tomorrow when there are massive projects being constructed in the green energy sector. The real issue is the cyclical nature of all this capital spending, not where it is being spent.

    1. The problem isn’t that renewable energy will not be profitable, it’s that it will not be profitable to the exact same billionaires who own right to all the resources in the tar sands. Sure they could easily afford to invest in the new industry, and that would put them in on the ground floor, but that would mean their ROI on their existing investment would be smaller, and, to a Capitalist, the extinction of our species is an “externality.”

    2. Cornell, excellent points! Many skills are transferrable from O&G to renewables. I don’t think it’s limited to construction, either. Computerized monitoring systems work equally well on pressure vessels and pipelines, and on solar panels, wind turbines and high-tension power lines.

      Your point about construction jobs is even better taken. We need to remember, Alberta’s “oil booms” since 2004 have been construction booms. The only recent “oil boom” was caused by Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. But Alberta isn’t the only place that needs to electrify former oil & gas industries. There’ll be jobs yet in construction.

  7. Hi Dave,
    Agree with your characterization of Sonya Savage. I’m not so sure that robber capitalism, as you call it, is in the past, though.
    Following up on Jerrymacgp’s comments. Since part of the reason for fewer workers in the o & g industry in Alberta is the use of robots, self-driving vehicles for example, and digitization, I have long thought that the ?provincial? government should offer very generous assistance to displaced workers, including a living allowance, reduced tuition for re-training, and help with finding work. This should go for any industry, really, where workers are made redundant for these kinds of reasons.

  8. It just so happens that the real Mikey is a multi- billionaire , head of Presidents Choice , and doing very well, and likely doesn’t give a damn about what Savage thinks. The conservatives in my world certainly don’t. It’s obvious that Ottawa is a lot smarter than these Alberta reformers . I find it hilarious that Ottawa has deliberately made them look like idiots by providing Albertans with an extra $50 billion, while they desperately try to spread the lie that Ottawa is stealing all our money, with the only people dumb enough to believe it are seniors. I think this brand of stupidity has helped Albertans. Trudeau is definitely our hero whether we want to believe it or not.

  9. Ms. Savage, and presumably her boss Ms. Smith, have both apparently forgotten, ignored, or maybe even destroyed Jason Kenney’s own attempt at starting a “just transition.” Kenney announced, in 2021 I believe, funding for a training program to help oilpatch workers “transition” (there’s that evil word again) to renewable energy, or something. I’m not sure if there was really a program, or funding, or just a PR-stunt of an announcement.

    Note well, Savage uses the incendiary word “immediately.” Then there’s the expected slap at the evil empire of the World Economic Forum: “Even more than that, it means restructuring societies and economies and redistributing wealth.” Oh yeah, the Base loves its Red Meat.

    (Confused footnote: why would the world’s billionaires want to take over ANY government? They already control all of ‘em from behind the scenes. Why would the Billionaires’ Club want to come out in the open and get ALL the blame? That’s what politicians are for!)

    When will these idiots realize, if we don’t plan a JUST transition for ourselves, the world will force us into a MUST transition that will hurt far worse!

    How about this for an alterative? “Alberta electorate eliminates polarized Minister Sonya Savage and petro-apologist Premier Danielle Smith.”

  10. Ms. Savage should march her Christian Louboutins down to the trade schools of this province and stop enrollment in programs that teach skills in alternative energy. Seriously, what business do SAIT and Lethbridge College have in training a generation of solar installers or wind turbine technicians? Wealth redistribution indeed! Albertans don’t need jobs that pay well. Let the Danes do it! Less wealth redistribution! Defund trade schools!

    Of course, the young people who are eagerly signing up for these courses will just go somewhere else to get their training, and can take their highly-sought skills anywhere in the world, but hey — oil and gas, baby! That’s the problem with young people these days. They see the writing on the wall for sunset industries and want to prepare for an occupation that will be here in 20 years. Dang those visionaries. Lawyers like Sonya Savage need to set them straight. More lawyers! Less jobs and less money for working folks!

    (The next thing you know, someone will tell these young-uns that coding is a career option, and computers have replaced pencils and paper. These kids are being unfair to the ancient dinosaurs of O&G.)

  11. Granted, industrial transitions are messy and, often, inadequate to serve the thousands of workers who are displaced by these transitions. But with this being the UCP, the conspiratorial claims are already flying. Is this all part of the ‘Great Reset’ and the “Replacement Theory”? Yeah. Sure. Okay. U-huh.

    Expecting the UCP to engage with Ottawa and ensure that the approach to transition is fair, equitable, and effective for aiding displaced workers. But come on. This is the UCP we’re talking about.

    We’re already seeing the crazy boilover about this so-called transition designed to depopulate Canada by freezing the bulk of its population to death. Just ask Brett Wilson. I can only imagine what’s bouncing between Danielle Smith’s two brain cells over this pressing attack on FreeDUMB by PMJT. AKA Dr. Evil.

  12. We still have to adapt as the human race. If we don’t do that, and do things that are reckless and imbalanced, and destroy the environment in the process, no amount of money will save us.

    1. Expat, I totally agree, and has the added benefit of yanking PP’s chain as well…..As my father was rather fond of saying ” I was ….only….. joking ” (sing song)

  13. My first reaction to this was: wow, here’s the battle cry for Ms. Smith and the “lunatics” (jason kenney’s word) to put her in office for 4 years with an actual mandate. All the high faluting talk and explanations and opinions won’t make a difference to her base. IMO, Ms Notely and her team better prepare and implement a strong campaign against this because as DC points out, this is Ms. Smith vs those nasty Feds. It’s possible the AB NDP could be road kill in this battle of hatred and ignorance.

  14. BREAKING NEWS! CNN Reports! “The ozone layer protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet rays. But since the late 1980s, scientists have sounded the alarm about a hole in this shield, caused by ozone-depleting substances including chlorofluorocarbons, dubbed CFCs, often found in refrigerators, aerosols and solvents.
    International cooperation helped stem the damage. The use of CFCs has decreased 99% since the Montreal Protocol went into force in 1989, which began the phase-out of those and other ozone-harming chemicals, according to the assessment by a panel of experts published on Monday.
    If global policies stay in place, the ozone layer is expected to recover to 1980 levels by 2040 for most of the world, the assessment found. For polar areas, the timeframe for recovery is longer: 2045 over the Arctic and 2066 over the Antarctic.” Oh ya. I know what you’re thinking. Such divisive language. Don’t blame me! Blame the Penguins ffs!

  15. Ahh yes, sustainable jobs based on government buying them.

    If government had a clue how to do such a thing, wouldn’t it be a beautiful world?

    Unfortunately, all government knows how to do is funnel money to their friends.

    1. Like Alberta? I believe it was for 2021 or maybe for 2020 when the GOA was showing where they got their money from and federal transfer payments were the second-highest source of revenue behind personal income taxes, but not by much.

  16. It isn’t surprising that Smith would try to copy her hero Ralph Klein and try to bribe the people with a pathetic $600. Which really doesn’t help any when you consider cutting corporate taxes and underfunding our municipalities is resulting in property taxes going up 20%, and these fools don’t want you to know that every man, woman and child in Alaska has received around $46,000. each since 1982, from their oil wealth and in fact over the past three years they have received some $4,102. While Albertans received a $136 billion debt and a destroyed health care and education system to try to deal with. I wonder how many of the seniors supporting them could have used this extra money? I have found that they would rather deny it is happening and call me a liar for pointing it out , that’s how stupid many of them are. As the oilmen point out while Alberta’s oil production is twice as high as Alaska and Norway combined look what their oil wealth has done for them. It certainly proves how badly Albertans have been screwed and still are.

  17. A lot of good points being made here, but I think folks are missing a big part of why oil and gas workers are so radicalized by this and it’s obviously the money. They know the money they are making in the oil and gas industry is exponentially more than what they would make doing the same job in a different context.

    I know two fellas that became journeymen at roughly the same time. Both of them initially took their skills to the oilfield, one of them after a short while decided he’d like to make 1/3-1/2 what he was making to be home every night. The other guy kept working in oil and gas. The first fella is a nice guy with a nice family living in a nice community. The second guy is divorced, and basically been slowly turned into a lunatic in the model of Jordan B Peterson. Which one do you think opposes the “just transition?”

    1. Excellent point about why O&G workers “resist” the change to renewables, little bird. The money used to be great, which is why there are so many 4x4s with quad lifts running around. The good news is that the diehards are a minority. As other pointed out above, 20-somethings are looking for training in renewable-energy tech, and bypassing traditional oil and gas trades.

      The guy who decided a good home life is better than money isn’t alone. In fact, I suspect he’s typical of the whole industry now. The live-fast die-young crowd are much less common. Unfortunately, they’re also much more noisy.

  18. Ms Savage can’t surprise me—not after watching her WMD spee—oh, sorry, that was Colin Powell—not after watching her “are-you-now-or-have-you-ever-been-a-Sasquatch” speech she delivered after the Public Inquiry into UnAlbetarian Conspiracies finally made its Final Report.

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