When it comes to Premier Stelmach's oft-repeated promise to keep oil sands jobs in Alberta instead of shipping them down the pipeline to the U.S., his government's new oil sands plan is little more than an admission of defeat.
"What this document says is that government will 'urge' and 'encourage' big energy players to diversify the industry. But what it doesn't say is that the government will actually intervene," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This kind of limp language is cold comfort to the thousands of construction and energy workers who have lost their jobs over the past two months - and the thousands of others who will almost certainly meet the same fate over the next year."
McGowan points out that the report downgrades the government's promise to upgrade and refine more bitumen in the province to an "aspirational goal."
At the same time, the report specifically says the government will encourage the development of more outbound pipelines - which, up to this point, have been little more than bitumen superhighways, taking raw bitumen (and potential Alberta jobs) to refiners in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast.
The plan also seems to accept the argument - advanced by industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) - that Alberta actually needs to ship more raw bitumen to the US in order to "find a better market price."
McGowan says that by embracing this argument, the government has basically given up on its previous promises to champion value-added jobs.
"The Tories can't have it both ways," says McGowan. "Either you believe we should create value-added jobs here or you believe that raw bitumen should be shipped to the States. This report suggests the government has sided with the big upstream energy players who want to export more raw bitumen. As a result, everything else in the report dealing with the subject of value-added jobs is little more than lip service."
McGowan says that, when it comes to creating more value-added jobs, the only concrete measure offered by the government is the already announced creation of a system for collecting bitumen in lieu of royalties.
"But given the global credit freeze and low international oil prices, building up a big pool of bitumen isn't going to be enough to convince anyone to build here instead of in Texas," says McGowan.
McGowan says the report also fails to recognize the changing political realities related to the oil sands - in particular the election of the Obama administration in the U.S., which is clearly serious about cleaning up the environment and reforming America's energy economy.
"Given the new political realities, it baffles me how the government could release a report that says so little about setting the bar much, much higher on environmental issues," says McGowan. "What Albertans needed was a big vision: like using the wealth generated by the oil sands to leverage our province towards a greener, more broadly based economy. But it just wasn't there."
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For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)