Bitter experience from Hanna, Alberta suggests that SaskPower’s plan could cost Estevan almost 600 jobs.
The town of Hanna, Alberta, serves as a striking example of the challenges associated with a "just transition." Historically dependent on coal mining and coal-fired power plants, Hanna faced a difficult road when the Alberta government initiated the phasing out of coal electricity in 2017. Despite hopes for replacement jobs in sectors like agriculture, oil and gas, and renewable energy, the transition proved to be far from successful. Economic Consequences Hanna's economy experienced a disastrous fallout as a result of the transition. Official data from the Alberta government reveals a sharp decline in the town's employment rate, dropping from 63% in 2016 to a mere 54% in 2021. This represents the lowest employment rate recorded in Hanna over the past four decades. Concurrently, the unemployment rate skyrocketed from 4.7% to a concerning 10%, indicating the significant hardships faced by the town's workforce. Plight of Workers A distressing outcome of the transition was the substantial increase in individuals relying on employment insurance. The data highlights a doubling in the number of people seeking assistance, further underscoring the financial strain experienced by affected workers and their families. With limited employment opportunities on the horizon, the future remains uncertain for many residents of Hanna. Decline in Building Permits Another notable indicator of Hanna's economic decline is the dramatic drop in building permits. In 2017, the town witnessed building permits worth over $6 million, signifying a flourishing economy. However, by 2021, this figure had plummeted significantly, with permits amounting to a mere $1 million. This decline underscores the challenges faced by local businesses and investors in adapting to a post-coal economy. Moving on is Hard to Do There has been no just transition for Hanna. Once an industry, like coal, that generates high value-activity is gone, whatever other industry there may be, can’t pick up the slack. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a municipal government to build a new high-value industry from scratch. Coal was the one thing that set Hanna apart from other communities - its one competitive advantage. Hanna has clearly demonstrated the difficulty of trying to replace the high-paying jobs the town has lost. Implications for Canada's Just Transition Hanna's struggles serve as a cautionary tale for other regions in Canada undergoing government-led "just transitions." Workers in resource-based provinces express growing concerns about their future prospects, drawing parallels between their situations and the challenges encountered by Hanna. If the trends witnessed in Hanna persist, the future appears bleak for these regions. What about Estevan? What do these numbers from Hanna indicate what could be in store for Estevan in the event that our mines shut down? Using data from the 2021 StatsCan census, we estimated the following: Current Estevan Employed: 6,490 With a 9% Hanna-like decrease: 584 lost jobs Current Estevan Employment rate: 64.0% With a 9% Hanna-like decrease: 53.0% Current Estevan Unemployment rate: 7.7% With a 213% Hanna-like increase: 16.38% Census Profile, 2021 Census of Population Obviously, the closure of Estevan’s coal mine’s would have overwhelmingly negative economic ramifications for the city and the workers at the coal mine. Conclusion The case of Hanna, Alberta lays out, in crystal clear detail, the complex and challenging nature of transitioning a community from coal. Despite efforts to diversify the local economy, the town faced a sharp decline in employment rates, an increase in unemployment, a surge in reliance on employment insurance, and a significant decline in building permits. Hanna's situation serves as a stark reminder to Estevan’s politicians that successful transitions require meticulous planning, support, if there is any hope whatsoever in developing some kind of sustainable alternatives capable of genuinely replacing the coal jobs being phased out. Saskatchewan Coal Transition Centre