The IBEW has been tapped to join a task force created by the Trudeau government to assist coal workers and communities with Canada’s transition away from coal-fired power plants.

Canada’s Just Transition Task Force was announced in April by Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, center, and includes IBEW Political Action and Media Strategist Matt Wayland, far right. Also pictured: Brenda Kuecks, left, Hassan Yussuff and Lois Corbett. Photo credit: Canadian Labour Congress.

The task force is part of Canada’s pledge to phase out the fossil fuel by 2030 and to make it a “just transition,” one that supports those whose livelihood depends on the coal industry, estimated at approximately 3,000 people working in either coal-fired power plants or coal mines, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour. 

“Our members bring real-world experience that will be invaluable in this transition,” said First District International Vice President William Daniels. “We’re honoured to have a seat at the table.”

Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna announced the members at a press conference on April 25. Political Action and Media Strategist Matt Wayland will represent the IBEW on the 11-person team that includes individuals from the environmental, government, academic and business sectors. Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff will co-chair the committee with Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

“This is a diverse group, and we’re all here to work in the best interest of the workers and communities involved in the transition,” Wayland said.

The team will meet with stakeholders, including provincial and local governments, labour unions, indigenous groups and businesses and issue a report at the end of the year with recommendations for the federal government.  

The phase-out will most directly impact the four provinces that currently produce coal-fired energy: Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The IBEW represents around 2,000 members in the coal sector, represented by five locals: Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37; Calgary, Alberta, Local 254; Edmonton, Alberta, Local 1007; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 1928 and Regina, Saskatchewan, Local 2067.

Local 37 Business Manager and International Executive Council member Ross Galbraith noted that his local has a good record of minimizing the negative impacts of such transitions, having negotiated options like retraining, relocation and early retirement.

“I’m going to make sure every option is explored in order to protect our members’ interests, including the potential for switching fuel sources,” Galbraith said. “It’s the benefit of a collective bargaining agreement and a good relationship with the employer.”

Local 2067 represents members in all aspects of the coal production process, including mining and carbon capture and storage — a process that can reduce emissions. In addition to concerns about losing a reliable baseload energy source, Business Manager Jason Tibbs says his roughly 500 members in the industry could be devastated by the transition.

“We’re encouraged that the task force has an IBEW representative. We know he’ll help elevate our voices,” Tibbs said. “I’m hoping the government will see that there are many available options when it comes to the environment.”

The task force made its first visit to Alberta in May. Under New Democratic Party leadership, the province began its own just transition about a year ago, potentially giving the federal government, led by the Liberal Party, a blueprint.

Local 254 Business Manager John Briegel attended the meeting and presented on the local’s experience, noting that many of the transition policies have been helpful, though some need adjusting, like the retirement benefit that can penalize someone with an early retirement provision in their pension plan.

“We were the first ones to do this, and we put a lot of time and money into getting the best possible information,” said Briegel. “We’re working hard to make it the best transition it can be, but it won’t be painless.”

Briegel says there’s been a lot of collaboration, including with Local 1007 and the Alberta Federation of Labour, which commissioned a study on pensions that should be completed this summer.

“We’re not so smug as to say that we’ve done it all right, but our primary concern is the people, and there’s a lot of good work being done here,” Briegel said.