The Alberta Government is pledging $40 million to provincial workers affected by the coal-phase out over the next 12-plus years, but there’s a federal component that isn’t set in stone.
NDP Labour Minister Christina Gray and Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous made the announcement Friday, saying the provincial cash along with EI will equal about 75 per cent of a worker’s earnings.
There’s several requests being made to the federal government, including not clawing back EI benefits in light of the provincial funding, as well as EI extensions.
“Whether the federal government steps up or not, we anticipate that they will, they have said that they have these workers backs as well, we need the policy flexibility so this can be an effective transition,” Gray said.
The $40 million is specifically for mine and plant workers who are either heading into retirement or transitioning to other industries, with Bilous saying there’s about 2,000 people affected.
Bilous confirmed in conversations with different power companies that it’s expected 100 to 200 layoffs will occur next year.
“This money will cover workers whether they are being laid off January 1st of 2018 or January 1st of 2029,” Bilous said. “Our regulations give a 13-year runway, as well as the federal government’s regulations, again very important to note that all coal-fired powered, or coal-powered electricity would be phased out by 2030 because of federal regulations.”
Chris Warwick, mayor of Hanna which is one of the affected communities, said he was pleased with the news.
“I like the fact that they are going to help the workers because I know there was a lot of concern with that,” he said. “And I like the encouragement of the federal government helping out.”
The funding announcement came after the release 35 recommendations from the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities, which met with municipal leaders, First Nations groups, small businesses and others.
All recommendations were accepted.
“The coal panel did certainly here what we had to say when they came and visited us,” he said. “People need to eat and they need to work, $40 million isn’t a small chunk of change, so I think it’ll go a long ways.”
Warwick said in the meantime the town is focused on job creation and retaining the population – seven per cent of which will be affected by the phase out – for when layoffs occur.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney criticized the NDP on Twitter, calling their language “Orwellian” for saying the government had workers backs while “deliberately killing their jobs.”
Bilous responded with, “Five-year-ago you made regulations to close our plants starting in 2019 … whose back did you have then and where was your plan for workers and communities?”