Provincial Government Announces Funding for Coal Workers

The Albertan Government pledges $40-million dollars to a Coal Workforce Transition Fund.

Big news has come from the Albertan government.

In a conference today Minister of Economic Trade and Development Deron Bilous and Minister of Labour Christina Gray announced new support systems for workers in the coal industry to help them either transition into retirement or into new fields during the coal phaseout. Bilous notes, "This will go directly to workers who need supplementary income while finding new jobs or bridging to retirement".

The government is also reaching out to the federal government to ask for policy flexibility that would allow workers to receive support without reducing their E.I. payments. Minster Gray explains mores, "we are asking the federal government to extend E.I. benefits to these workers to successfully bridge them to retirement, we will then top up those benefits to 75% of their previous earnings, second for workers who are not planning on retiring we are prepared to top up their E.I. benefits to 75% of their previous earnings for the standard E.I. period".

They also announced, in addition to the Coal Workforce Transition Fund, the government will provide workers with third party retraining programs and professional certification courses. Also, Gray added there will be a tuition voucher for those wishing to pursue a different field. She explains, "we are developing a financial support package in the form of a two year $6,000 per year tuition voucher that will help workers cover the cost of a post-secondary education".

Despite these advancements in supporting coal workers affected by the phaseout, Mayor of Parkland County Rod Shaigec believes more need to be done. He notes he was disappointed to hear now funding was promised to the communities affected by the phaseout. He adds, "this isn't a short term situation, the transition is going to extend over a significant period of time and it's going to affect our budgets so we're going to have to make decisions regarding tax rates, service levels and it's also going to affect our neighbouring municipalities that we have cost sharing agreements with as well.

Speaking more to working with other leaders in the Tri-Region, Mayor Shaigec states, "one of the things we have requested is the creation of Regional Economic Development Authority in this area because it's certainly not Parkland County, although we believe we are the most affected region in the province it is going to impact our neighbouring municipalities like Stony Plain and Spruce Grove".

Shaigec also makes his stance very clear on what he would like to see from the provincial government saying, "direct financial compensation to offset some of the lost tax revenues as well as developing a framework for a long term strategy on how we can transition Parkland County through to 2030".

Shaigec also believes a solution can be found through open communication on all levels of government as he adds, "We need to get both the province and the federal government to the table and start looking at and implementing a support particularly for infrastructure where we can continue to develop and attract businesses to create employment opportunities not just for the displaced workers but for other residents in Parkland County and the region as a whole".

The Albertan government says these initiatives are a response to the recommendations received through the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities.

-MU

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