Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous tells the small town folks that don't worry-we're there for y'all. I laugh. Isn't this what the NDP folks told the families who have residents in the continuing care system? We're there for y'all? We're going to make 2,000 long term care beds. We're going to evolve the system? Change the culture of the incompetent PCs to one of deliverables and public service that is genuine rather than self service of the sort we're so done with in Alberta?
Don't believe any of these politicians. It's all about the political party's own agenda and guess what? The political parties turn their backs on citizens all the time. Best to take care of your own families by yourselves and not depend on the political hires.
If coal communities are in the dark this should be no surprise to anyone. All of Alberta is in the dark with reference to the climate leadership plan. I can't figure it out. We have a carbon tax that is supposed to modulate our consumption of fossil fuel but most of us will get the money back so I doubt if we'll be changing our consumption habits. Then some of the money raised by the carbon tax will go to green energy projects that are not feasible without public subsidy (sort of like the oil and gas industry itself). Meanwhile communities that depend on coal fired electricity generation plants for jobs and economic spin off benefits aren't sure what is taking the place of these jobs. I would say that nothing is going to take the place of these jobs.
These jobs once destroyed by the NDP folks won't be coming back. So I would suggest to the citizens in these communities to get retrained in other fields. It's either that or wait for communication and help that hasn't been in evidence in the two years to date that the NDP folks have been in power. My feeling is that the NDP folks don't know what they are doing and so we should not depend on them for help. Just do it yourself.
Varcoe: Alberta's coal communities fed up with being left 'totally in the dark'
CHRIS VARCOE, CALGARY HERALD, CALGARY HERALD 07.29.2017
Residents of Hanna have erected a sign showing their feelings about government policies.JEFF MCINTOSH / CALGARY HERALD
A woman walks down the main drag in Forestburg, Alberta, December 19, 2016. The town is depended on a coal mine and an ATCO coal power plant.TODD KOROL / CALGARY HERALD
Here’s a textbook example of how to frustrate Albertans.
First, announce you’re going to shut down an industry that will affect livelihoods in communities across the province.
Next, promise to help them with the transition, but offer scant details. Set up a task force to examine the issue and have it run behind schedule.
Finally, let anxiety fester with a lack of information.
That’s how things are playing out in like Forestburg, Hanna, Wabamun and other Alberta communities that rely on coal mines and nearby electrical generating plants for jobs, taxes and economic development — but face a phase-out of such power by 2030.
“We are totally in the dark,” laments George Glazier, reeve of Paintearth County, where the Battle River Generating Station and nearby coal mine provide $3 million of its annual $13-million municipal tax base.
“We feel like we are kind of on an island because we don’t hear anything from anyone in government.”
In November 2015, the Notley government announced a plan to eliminate coal-fired electrical generation by the end of next decade to clean Alberta’s power grid, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve people’s health.
At the time, the province’s climate advisory panel cautioned there would be negative impacts in areas with coal-fired generation, and recommended the government conduct “early identification of workforce impacts … and early preparation of planning, training and transition program options.”
More than 18 months later, affected towns and villages wonder when answers to their questions will come.
Last September, the NDP government created a three-member task force to visit these communities and talk to local officials and industry workers about what needs to be done next.
By all accounts, the meetings went well.
But a promise the panel would report back in early 2017 hasn’t happened; delayed until the fall.
Even though the deadline to end coal-fired electricity is still 13 years away, generators such as TransAlta Corp. and ATCO recently announced plans or are considering converting their coal-fired facilities to burn natural gas, possibly as early as 2020.
That would save some jobs, but mean a significantly smaller workforce within a shorter time span.
Local leaders say they’re fed up by a lack of information from government about the panel’s progress, what will happen to their hometowns and the fate of workers who rely on coal for a paycheque.
In the east-central Alberta village of Forestburg, where an estimated 175 jobs in the region are tied directly to the nearby coal mine and power plant, frustration mounts.
“It’s been very poorly orchestrated,” says Mayor Peter Miller. “Long on words, short on action.”
In the town of Hanna, where ATCO’s nearby Sheerness generating station and the Westmoreland Coal mine employ about 200 workers, trepidation grows.
They’ve met with Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous and sat down with the province’s coal panel.
But Mayor Chris Warwick says they’ve been given few details on what it will recommend or how the government will help.
“The biggest frustration has been lack of communication. In my opinion, it’s been pathetic,” says Warwick, who runs a hardware store in the town.
“We hardly ever hear from them. We’re constantly sending them emails — what’s going on with this and what’s going on with that — and get no replies.”
In last year’s provincial budget, the government said $195 million over five years would be set aside to help fund coal communities during the transition and assist Indigenous communities.
There have been few details since.
Bilous says the province does not have a price tag on the support it will provide, but notes economic development grants for communities already exist.
The government is considering options for retraining programs and how to leverage existing infrastructure in the affected areas.
The minister should be getting the task force’s final report this fall and vows to visit affected coal workers in the coming weeks.
“Communication has been slower than we would have liked with the communities. And I do acknowledge they are feeling a little frustrated,” Bilous says.
“We had a little bit of challenge getting the panel up and going. I was a little slow in getting out to the communities. But what we have done is made a commitment to the communities that we will improve our communications with them.”
That’s a start.
But in the months ahead, actions — not words — will define how this relationship evolves.
In the village of Wabamun about 40 minutes west of Edmonton, Mayor Charlene Smylie notes the community has been transitioning in recent years to promote tourism.
A local power station and mine closed several years ago and two more plants in the region will be affected by phasing out coal-fired electricity, costing more jobs.
“Wabamun isn’t looking for a handout, we just need a hand up because we can see what our future can be,” she says.
Other municipal leaders worry that once coal-related jobs are dust, workers will sell their homes, pushing down real estate prices. This could lead to higher municipal taxes for remaining residents and fewer children in local schools.
Moreover, many power and coal mine employees are integral community players, serving as volunteer firefighters and on civic groups.
Some leaders hope the provincial and federal governments might reverse course on their decisions — Ottawa also decided last year that coal-fired power generation across Canada must end next decade — but concede that’s not likely to happen.
However, they want assistance preparing economic development strategies and help finding leads to attract new industries and employment.
“We don’t think the government is looking at this with enough urgency because two-and-a-half years goes by awful quickly,” says Warwick.
Bilous says the task force is examining each community individually and stresses the panel isn’t putting together cookie-cutter recommendations.
He points out the province successfully negotiated with the federal government to change regulations on coal-fired power plants so generators can convert to gas and retain some jobs.
It’s also talking to Ottawa about its responsibility to assist affected Alberta areas.
The provincial government is “not about to turn our back on these communities,” Bilous pledges.
Towns, villages and counties facing the pending shutdown of coal power hope that’s the case, but remain uneasy.
“Tell us something. They haven’t really said anything other than ‘be patient, we’ll get around to you,’ ” says Miller, a retired school teacher who has lived in Forestburg since 1981.
“That only works for so long.”
Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.