Meetings were held yesterday in Estevan with various stakeholders, MP Dr Kitchen, and employees in the coal sector to provide recommendations to a task force on how to best transition workers from the coal industry into other employment.
"This was actually a federal initiative," explained Jackie Wall, Executive Director at the Estevan Chamber of Commerce. "We were contacted by this task force to meet. It is basically taking a look at how this economy, this city is going to transition once coal is phased out."
She added that many people misinterpreted the purpose of the meetings.
"A lot thought they were coming here to argue for keeping coal, that is not what this task force is about. It is about transitioning workers after coal is phased out. I think for a lot of the general people here, it's a huge hit of reality. This isn't a question of if, it's a question of when. And now putting forth recommendations as to how it will be handled. How are we going transition workers? How are we going to maintain this community? How is economic development going to happen? What is going to happen to this community when coal is no longer a viable option."
"It's not about fighting for coal, it's about now transitioning the workers."
Wall added that it's not just the problem of workers losing their jobs. These workers have families in and around Estevan. They have spouses and children who make their community their home.
"It will have a huge impact. Mining is just over 15% of the economy in the City of Estevan. For every one of those workers, other jobs are affected. The jobs that workers have out at the mine, in the coal industry here are very high paying jobs. They're unionized jobs, they've got great benefits, they've got a pension plan. These are fantastic jobs."
"And for every one of these jobs that are transitioned out, we'll lose more than one other job in Estevan. And it's very easy to see. You will be losing not only the worker but their spouse and of course their children. It's not only the mine workers, it is their families, their spouses who also have jobs here in the community."
"This has effects across the board. It affects our school system, it's going to affect our hospital system. It's going to affect our city and it's ability to function and provide services. This is a huge extending issue. I hope the task force can get that through to the federal government."
Although no solutions came out of the meetings, Wall shared that this is not the first task force of this kind.
"It is nice to see that this task force has been in the process in Alberta and has seen how some things were effective and other things were not effective."
"It's very frustrating, we don't have a clear timeline. We still have a situation where the federal and provincial government have not come to terms with the equivalency agreement. The equivalency agreement would extend the use of coal but right now, we're looking at 2030 as the shut down for coal."
That does not include Carbon Capture and Storage, however, the CCS facility does not use the amount of coal needed to justify hundreds of jobs in the area.
"I must say, it is very encouraging that we have our Member of Parliment here. They are meeting with the City, with the RM, I believe the Town of Bienfait was in there, the United Mine Workers have been consulted, the Chamber was here, Economic Development is here so they are really making sure that they are speaking with all the stakeholders within the community."
"This task force is also, from what they say, volunteers. They are here because they want to be here. They are not appointed by a government who is paying their salaries, they are here as volunteers."
"I really hope they can take the information that they've got from this community and are going to be able to make sure that our voices are heard."