What we heard from Canadian coal power workers and communities

By Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities

December 2018

Purpose of this report

On April 25, 2018, the Government of Canada launched the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. Our mandate was to provide the government with recommendations for how to support a just and fair transition for Canadian coal communities and workers, as Canada has committed to stop generating traditional coal-powered electricity by 2030.

To develop our advice, we met directly with coal workers; coal communities; relevant stakeholder groups; and, federal, provincial, and municipal government departments. Together, we:

We received a wealth of information, heard real challenges, and learned about local ideas and solutions. While there are considerable differences across the country, community members and workers shared common concerns about impacts from the phase-out, including job losses, income security, re-training and re-employment, strained municipal budgets, and the social impacts of transition. We also heard hope for what a just transition could mean for the creation of decent work and sustainable communities.

We sincerely thank every single coal worker, community member, government official, employer, union representative, and other stakeholder who met with us. Your insights, experiences, concerns, and solutions guided our recommendations to the Government of Canada, which are detailed in our report: A Just Transition Plan for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities.

This report summarizes what we heard in May and June 2018 in two parts. In part one, the “Provincial Snapshots” provide a high-level summary of what we learned about each affected province, providing context and key messages. Part two, “Achieving a Just Transition,” gives a thematic summary of the ideas people shared regarding just transition. This document is not an exhaustive account of what we heard and should be read with our official report, which includes additional information.

Part one: provincial snapshots

What we heard in Alberta

Showing leadership on just transition

Provincial overview

Coal is a key part of Alberta’s electricity grid where the sector has thrived for decades. Alberta also has the largest number of coal mines and generating stations in Canada, meaning impacts from the phase-out will extend across the province. Following the provincial and federal governments’ decision to phase out coal, workers are facing layoffs, municipalities are losing their tax base, and community members are now experiencing the ripple effects. Recognizing these impacts, Alberta’s labour movement successfully advocated for essential provincial programs and services for reemployment, retraining, relocation and early retirement. Communities likewise worked to secure a dedicated fund for transition. These supports from the provincial government will help, but they are only a start. Albertans are hopeful that the Government of Canada will do its part and help secure a prosperous future for Alberta beyond coal.

Alberta is taking steps
Workers are organized
Employers are planning for the transition


Almost all thermal coal mines in Alberta are expected to close from the phase-out because they supply coal to local generating stations. Only the Coal Valley Mine exports to international markets.

Albertan workers and communities are already taking action

Forestburg and Communities in the Battle River Region
Parkland County
Leduc County
Hanna, Youngstown, and Special Area No 2.

An innovative way to address labour issues: the employer liaison service pilot program in Alberta

The Governments of Canada and Alberta launched a two-year pilot program called the Employer Liaison Service on April 19, 2017. Its mandate is to connect Alberta employers with job-seeking Canadians and permanent residents by providing information, tools, and hands-on supports to eligible employers who are having difficulty recruiting workers. This program is intended to help diminish employer reliance on the use of temporary foreign workers and does not directly support the phase-out of coal.

What we heard in Saskatchewan

Putting communities first

Provincial overview

The two coal mines and three generating stations in Saskatchewan are closely intertwined with their regions along the southern border. Coal is part of the local culture—some communities attribute their entire history to the industry. Workers and communities are proud and passionate about their work, rural lifestyle, and efforts to reduce pollution. There were repeated calls for governments to acknowledge the real and unique challenges these communities face, act in their best interest, and support the vibrancy of rural Canada. The Government of Saskatchewan and SaskPower look to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology and their ongoing negotiation of an equivalency agreement with the Government of Canada to sustain Saskatchewan’s coal industry. There is widespread hope that by 2030 coal-fired electricity generation will be cleaner and the coal industry will still support workers, families, and communities in southern Saskatchewan.

The government needs to look at transition’s impacts in Canada. The government should worry more about Canadian communities and less about its image internationally.

– Resident, Coronach, SK

Adapting to a changing electricity landscape

City of Estevan, Town of Bienfait, Rural Municipality of Estevan No. 5, Rural Municipality of Coalfields No. 4

Over 100 people attended a meeting with the Task Force in Estevan, and over 200 people attended a meeting with the Task Force in Coronach. They voiced their concerns about the transition, including the impacts on children, families, home values, and the overall future of their communities.

Coronach and surrounding area

What will we do for work? Where will we live? What are our options?

– Community member in Coronach

What we heard in New Brunswick

Working together to find an alternative to coal

Provincial overview

The legacy of coal in New Brunswick dates back earlier than the province itself. Following decades of transition, New Brunswick has one coal-fired generating station still operating: the Belledune Generating Station. This generating station and the Port of Belledune, where coal is imported, are key employers and economic drivers for the community of Belledune and the Campbellton-Miramichi region. NB Power and workers are proud that the Belledune Generating Station has already shown environmental leadership and its success in reducing air pollution, including by installing scrubbers to lower sulphur dioxide emissions. NB Power is looking for an alternative fuel source, like hydrogen, biomass, or natural gas to keep the Belledune Generating Station open and its workers employed beyond 2030. Residents, workers, and municipalities are already putting their minds towards transition and are working to plan and find a solution to sustain the region.

Planning for the future

Workers, communities, and businesses are advocating for ways to grow, modernize, and diversify the region:

Closures are not the answer.

– Community member in Belledune

Strength in the region

While there is a long and respected history of coal mining and electricity generation in New Brunswick, affected workers and communities are looking towards the future. With open and transparent decision-making by NB Power, many are hopeful that the transition to cleaner electricity will bring jobs and economic renewal to Belledune and the surrounding the Campbellton-Miramichi region. This region is resilient, having survived the closure of major industries before, and is looking to build on its experiences and successes. 

Local success: Brunswick Mine transition

When the Brunswick Mine closed in 2013 after nearly 50 years of operations, the provincial government, employer, and union collaboratively managed the transition for the estimated 700 to 800 affected workers. Based on the expected date when the minerals would be depleted, Xstrata Zinc provided years of advance notice before the closure.

In 2007, the provincial government and Xstrata Zinc funded the Brunswick Mine Labour Force Adjustment Committee. This Committee proactively helped miners find other jobs before the mine closed by assessing the workers’ needs and arranging on-site job fairs.

The Committee established the Brunswick Mine Transition Centre in Bathurst, which provided services to workers, such as training, counselling, resume writing, and help applying for Employment Insurance. To ensure their skills acquired on the job were recognized, some miners received certification through the Canadian Mining Certification Program. The Transition Centre and partnerships formed through the Committee were essential in achieving positive outcomes through the transition.

Municipal climate leadership

Municipalities have the power to lead by example and take positive climate action. The City of Bathurst has considered climate change in its operations since 2012. In 2016, the city release its Climate Change Adaptation Plan, accounting for local impacts such as rising water levels, eroding coast lines, and flooding. It has also produced interactive maps on coastal flooding, inland flooding, and coastal erosion.

What we heard in Nova Scotia

Making electricity cleaner

Provincial overview

Coal is a source of pride and heritage for many in Nova Scotia, particularly in Cape Breton and the region around Pictou County. A significant amount of electricity in Nova Scotia is still generated from coal. Most of this coal is imported, as the one remaining thermal mine will close in 2019 at its end-of-life date and the Donkin Mine only recently reopened. Given the need to reduce GHG emissions, the Government of Nova Scotia has taken a broad-based approach to reduce emissions from the electricity sector, including coal-fired generating stations. As environmental progress has been made overall, many workers, community members, unions, and employers support using coal to generate some electricity after 2030. This would require that provincial and federal governments negotiate an equivalency agreement to allow for coal to be used. Negotiations on an equivalency agreement are already underway, giving many Nova Scotians hope for both a cleaner and secure future.

Nova Scotians are seeing results

In Nova Scotia…

  • Communities:
    • survived resource declines and closures
    • diversified, renewed, and thrived through hardship
  • Unions and workers:
    • collaborate with employers
    • value honest communication and open decision-making
    • hold dual tickets
  • Employers:
    • strive to keep electricity rates low, reduce emissions and minimize job losses
    • offer secure and reliable jobs all year
  • Health and environmental organizations:
    • know the phase out is important
    • flag potential impacts on mental health and overall wellness

Transition lessons from the closure of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Cornwallis in Nova Scotia

The federal government established a $30 million fund following the 1993 closures of several military bases in Atlantic Canada, including CFB Cornwallis in Nova Scotia.

A portion of these funds went to the Cornwallis Park Development Agency, a local non-profit, who took ownership of the military facilities. To create community economic development opportunities, the CPDA sold 246 military homes and repurposed existing infrastructure and leisure centres for new activities, including the establishment of an international peacekeeping organization and a camp for sea cadets. A “Net Zero Pricing Policy” and investments in new local businesses at the newly titled Cornwallis Park stimulated economic activity.

Most notably, Acadian Seaplants Ltd. received funding to expand its processing facility and establish a research and development centre at the Park. It is now the largest independent marine plant processing facility in North America, a global leader in developing marine plant products, and a significant employer in the region.

This transition spurred job creation that exceeded the previous number of employees at the base, and continues to be a key piece of regional infrastructure.

Nova Scotians need time to plan for transition

Trenton and Pictou County
Port Hawkesbury and the Strait of Canso
Sydney and Cape Breton Island

Part two: achieving a just transition

Keep workers working—in their communities

Coal workers are widely respected for their skills, trades, and contributions to their communities. They made what they believed to be a responsible decision to work in the coal industry, yet now, through no fault of their own, they are facing an uncertain future. Governments, employers, unions, and workers all expressed hope to find ways to work together to avoid layoffs and closures in the affected communities. Many suggested concrete ways to have more collaborative decision-making processes and appropriate local services and supports.

Common concerns

Our community college provides opportunities to retrain workers and gain transferable skills, but we need an active industry here for that to be possible.

- Community member, Bathurst, NB

Frequently mentioned solutions

Allow for early retirement

Many workers close to retirement have dedicated their entire lives to the coal industry. Due to the phase-out, they may lose their jobs before they are eligible to retire with full pensions. These workers identified two key concerns when looking for a new job: they do not want to take an opportunity away from a worker just starting out and employers do not want to hire them with only a few years left to work. It is essential that workers’ lifelong contributions are respected and that they have a bridge to retirement.

I retire in less than 10 years and now I have to look at another job to get my pension. I’m too old to go into the job market. I need this job to retire.

- Community member, Coronach, SK

Make electricity secure and affordable

The transition away from coal to other fuels will not be fair and just if electricity becomes unreliable and expensive. Many workers believe that using coal is essential to keep the lights on and the costs to consumers low. As a result, there is strong support to use technology to make coal cleaner and keep using it past 2030. At the same time, the alternatives are becoming more affordable and technological improvements are making them more reliable. Employers are looking for ways to reduce emissions and keep rates reasonable.

How can we extend the life of coal? How can you help improve CCS?

- Meeting participant, Estevan, SK

Common concerns

Frequently mentioned solutions

The sun doesn’t always shine. The wind doesn’t always blow.

- Meeting participant, Cape Breton, NS

Reduce the stress of financial uncertainty

Transition comes with financial uncertainty. Many workers reported being unsure how to plan their finances without knowing when and if they would be affected. Workers who lose their jobs could face additional stress from the added cost of relocating for work, taking a lower paying job, or unemployment. New and available supports should be clearly communicated, easy to access and have a low qualification threshold. Similarly, communities will require supports to supplement impacted tax bases and ensure community members maintain an affordable living standard now and beyond 2030.

I don’t know what we will do if tax revenues are gone. Surrounding communities rely on them too.

- Meeting participant, Estevan, SK

Common concerns

Frequently mentioned solutions

Help communities thrive

Communities are more than cities, towns and villages—they are the places where children grow up, workers earn a living, and people call home. When a community undergoes a transition it can have lasting impacts on the well-being of those who reside there. Municipalities and economic development officers face immense pressure to find solutions with limited resources, while population decline puts the viability of communities at risk and makes living more expensive. Many communities have demonstrated their resiliency through previous market downturns; however, they need help to sustain the quality of life that people rely on.

Common concerns

Frequently mentioned solutions

People are beginning to think of coal towns as dead. We need to change that perception and show them that there is a future.

- Resident, Forestburg, AB

I come from a small community outside Estevan and if the mining industry is removed, I would have to travel to Regina or Saskatoon to get basic services.

- Resident, Estevan area, SK

Our population keeps getting old and we can’t afford to lose any more families. Young families don’t want to stay in our community anymore because there are fewer jobs.

- Resident, Trenton, NS

I have been trying to get my Red Seal, but my employer has not been cooperative…. I am now out of time. I will be an unemployed millwright without a ticket.

- Written submission, AB (summarized)

Planning is required to ensure that the low-carbon transition’s many benefits for health… are not offset by abrupt decreases in the social determinants of health.

- Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Communicate and collaborate openly and honestly

Uncertainty about transition, including when it will happen locally and who exactly will be affected, is causing significant levels of stress. Some workers felt their employers and provincial governments have been more open and transparent about the future of coal. Many however expressed concerns over closed decision-making processes and a lack of communication. These workers and communities felt like they were left in the dark. There were resounding calls for more inclusive processes, particularly when the Government of Canada makes such an impactful decision, as in this case, regulating away an entire industry. Workers and communities want to know they will be treated fairly and have time to make the right decisions.

Common concerns

Frequently mentioned solutions

Project ideas we heard in communities

Trenton Works Factory

Trenton and Pictou County, NS

Business incubator

Belledune and Greater Bathurst Region, NB

Westwind Centre

Spruce Grove, AB


Warburg, AB; Thorsby, AB

Belledune Generating Station

Belledune and Greater Bathurst Region, NB

Carbon Capture Sequestration (CCS)

Estevan, Bienfait, Coronach, SK; Cape Breton, NS

Broadband internet

Warburg, AB; Leduc, AB; Forestburg and area, AB; Belledune and Greater Bathurst Region, NB

Aerotropolis implementation

Leduc County, AB

Cape Breton rail line

Cape Breton, NS


Strait of Canso, Cape Breton, NS; Belledune and region, NB


Coronach and area, SK

Highway 60 (Acheson Industrial Area) and Whitemud West Extension

Parkland County, AB

Tourism and supporting infrastructure

Richmond County, NS

Annex: list of who the task force engaged





Academics and non-governmental organizations

Economic development groups

Provincial ministries





Academics and non-governmental organizations

Economic development groups

Provincial ministries

New Brunswick




Economic development groups

Provincial ministries

Nova Scotia




Academics and non-governmental organizations

Economic development groups

Provincial ministries

Government of Canada

Online submissions

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