The latest fad here in Canada is the so-called “Just Transition” in which Justin Trudeau’s government, determined to add to its already long list of failed policy schemes, intends to socially engineer the transition of the Alberta workforce out of high-paying skilled jobs in oil and gas production into low-paid and largely imaginary jobs in the ‘clean economy’. But don’t think they haven’t been thinking through the coming challenges. Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who will table a “Just transition” bill in 2023, cautions “I do not believe that the challenge we are going to face is that there are workers who are displaced that will not find other good-paying jobs. I am actually quite worried that there are so many opportunities … we will not have enough workers to fill the jobs.” So there, you doubters. Of course if what he says were true it would mean the government doesn’t have to force the process to happen, the market would take care of everything. But what he is saying isn’t the least bit true. We’d call it wishful thinking if there was any evidence that thinking had played a role.
What’s essential here is not the politics of a spat between Canada’s federal government and that of Alberta. It’s that those in charge in Ottawa, who have presided over a series of economic debacles from runaway debt to runaway inflation to runaway public sector salaries with remarkable insouciance, think there is nothing complicated or difficult about revamping the entire economy. They have learned nothing from the last half-decade in power, the last half-century on industrial policy, or the last century on central planning. Nothing.
A federal briefing note for Wilkinson, Key Messages on Just Transition, indicates that there will be massive implications for at least 13.5% of the workforce, which is an underestimate because whatever has a huge impact on agriculture, manufacturing, building and transportation, the four sectors identified as most affected, will certainly have knock-on effects for others. And it contains this callous throwaway line: “Some green jobs will not require workers with green skills to perform their jobs, i.e. janitor or driver working for a solar energy company.”
Great. You go from being a highly-paid rig operator to a janitor and are meant to feel that justice as well as prosperity have been enhanced. But why think it would work? Why believe you could just, on the back of an envelope or with a single legislative document, change the careers and output of more than one in eight workers in a gigantic central planning spasm and have it all work?
As former Liberal MP turned “Gas price wizard” Dan McTeague recently Tweeted, “The carbon/climate fixation has: – caused inflation/ – devalued the Loonie/ – reduced capital inflows into Canada/ – helped drive up global energy price/ – ensured a rise in coal use/ – raised national debt”. But none of these actual results of their actions have dented their confidence that, if they just go at it harder, they’ll create price stability, strengthen the dollar, attract investment, get rid of coal and pay off the debt.
Nigel Hannaford raised similar objections, saying:
“If Ottawa wants to take energy workers earning $150,000 a year and put them into jobs earning less than half that, you could call the transition a lot of things. But certainly not any word that means fair, equitable – or just.”
As he adds, the plan will hit Alberta workers especially hard. But “Nationally, oil and gas means directly and indirectly nearly 600,000 jobs to Canada. And more than a third of them are outside Alberta.” However the main point is that it’s not working, or doing anything that reminds you of a thing that is working:
“over the last seven years, Mr. Trudeau has been killing pipelines, chasing tankers away from the West Coast (but not the East), using regulations to make it more expensive for oil and gas producers to operate and putting potentially valuable exploration lands out of reach in national parks.”
Rex Murphy was even less impressed, writing that:
“Well, that’s one way to start the New Year. Send out a second-tier minister, working in concert with another second-tier minister, Seamus O’Regan, and an NDP consort, Charlie Angus, to announce a peremptory, arbitrary, unnegotiated shutdown of a greatly productive province’s principal industry.”
Harsh. But fair, because it is easier to destroy than create, something all practical people know all too well. Unfortunately those we have entrusted with power do not seem to know it, so they are undaunted by this unbroken record of failure.
Even on small things they’ve done badly. Don Braid pointed out in the Edmonton Journal that:
“Past efforts to help transition workers, from the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery crisis to the shift away from coal-fired electricity, proved that Ottawa has had no workable plans, provided few useful benefits, and revealed both chaotic disorganization and appalling bureaucratic lassitude.”
Despite which, rather than backing down, they’re just warming up, so to speak. This “transition”, from people who in most cases have never even run a corner store, involves entirely overhauling labour markets, energy markets, manufacturing and transportation in a massive modern economy and have everything work better. And not just economically. You also get social justice. And colder weather which you will like or else. But how do they plan to do it?
Seriously. How, for instance, do they think Gosplan attempted to work similar wonders with the dramatically less complicated Russian/Soviet economy and, at the risk of raising awkward questions, what flaws in its approach do they think led to the scorched-earth disaster of the actual Soviet economy rather than the one Stalin intended and many western economists hallucinated? Do they have any idea what the actual central planning process even looked like at a technical level, let alone why it failed? (And at least Gosplan worked with imaginary quantities of real things like steel; a plan whose matrix inputs include imaginary things like efficient biofuels is fantasy squared.)
Such an approach makes merely banning gas stoves, overhauling haute cuisine, look like the work of timid amateurs. And it comes, perhaps unsurprisingly, from a Prime Minister who, never having run anything except a famously inept ministry, thinks he can run them all while they switch to unproven product lines in harmonious diversity, equity and inclusion. While flunking basic accounting: he appears genuinely to believe that his carbon tax gives people back more than it takes, no matter how often qualified expert opinion says otherwise.
If we had one wish in economics, it would be to have every concerned citizen read Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil” on the mind-boggling complexity of making a humble, prosaic lead pencil even before there were microchips. And then send it to their legislative representative, and the head of their executive branch. Because the degree of ignorance and arrogance in believing one can redo an entire economy, and a society, and a world, is mind-boggling. Including conjuring into existence whatever technology is needed, from solar-driven hydrogen to massive efficient batteries to an entire grid able to power your electric car, electric stove and electric furnace.
the four corners coal electric power plant was recently shut down in arizona / new mexico desert ending good paying jobs for hundreds of native americans working at the plant and mining the coal to run it . so far no new jobs on the horizon . green new deal not doing a lot for social justice so far . i’m sure there is an epa study somewhere showing how many lives they’re saving .
The bill should be renamed ‘Justin’s Transition to Poverty’
Saw Albertan Premier, Danielle Smith, talking to JBP, and was most impressed by her unscripted, common-sense responses and ideas. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba need to leave federal Canada.
My questions: Why do we obey these edicts, these undebated, unexamined, untoward intrusions into our economy and our lives? Why do the CEOs of companies affected by this shambles kowtow to the Prime Fumbler? Carbon capture and storage my foot! Where is our Public Service and our Judiciary- are they not supposed to act as a check on political ambitions that violate precedent, tradition, practice and law? Worst of all, why do voters whose lives have been materially, and spiritually degraded by the Prime Fumbler's rule keep voting for him? Him, not his foolish party. It can't be love - can it?
Meanwhile, in the real Alberta economy, due to low prices since 2014 causing layoffs, retirements, and no training of new personnel during CoVid, there is a huge shortage of technically skilled people in Alberta’s oil and gas sector….not in the news, but in every company’s HR department…
And we all thought Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks" was humour. Among earnest-but-ill- educated politicians, it has become the "Ministry of Silly Marches". Now, only the Chinese will be laughing.
The word hubris has far too few letters in it to describe these people. They cannot even set up a pay system for their existing workers, or deliver passports in a reasonable time frame, yet we are to believe they can remake an economy and an energy system that took hundreds of years to develop?
At some point in the future historians and political analysts will write about two periods in Canadian history that made permanent deep division in Canadian unity and lead to the destruction of Canada as a whole. The first such period was when Pierre Trudeau was PM and the second period is right now when Justin Trudeau was PM.
Alberta will witness the federal bulldozing of their economy back into the stone age while everything no longer produced in Alberta (the justification of Justin's Just Transition) will be produced somewhere else on the planet. Meanwhile the urban Eloi-like creatures in Alberta are considering voting for the same party provincially that not only enables the federal government but advocates for more and faster economic destruction. Alexander Tytler comes to mind.
Like father, like son. Not sure which one is worse.
Don't be such a Debbie Downer! We have a terrific precedent for changing the "careers and output of more than one in eight workers in a gigantic central planning spasm and having it all work." Health care is more than 12% of the Canadian economy, yet it was transitioned from private to public in the twinkling of Pierre Trudeau's eye. What Pierre has done for Canada's Pride & Joy social program, surely Justin can accomplish in the energy sector. By 2030 Canada will have the world's best health care system AND the world's best energy supply system, too - and the majority of Canadian voters will be twice as ecstatic with self-congratulations!
Just saying, again, welcome to the United States of America Alberta. As part of the great union you will no longer have to listen to Ottawa and your fate is now your own again, not that it ever was I suppose.