In an interview with Mediaplanet, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources, discusses his role in fighting climate change and pursuing opportunities for sustainable job creation.
As the Minister of Natural Resources, what’s your role in fighting climate change?
Well, there are at least a couple of roles. Several pieces of the climate plan that reside in Natural Resources Canada relate to implementing elements.
I have responsibility for the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program and the development and coordination across the ministries of the Buildings Strategy about reducing emissions in the building space.
In a country like Canada, which historically has a significant part of its economy derived from oil and gas, how do you transition to a future in which oil and gas will be less significant as a driver of economic growth yet continue to have a prosperous economy? That was the Prime Minister’s mandate when he asked me to take this on. That relates to things like the Regional Tables and the critical mineral strategies.
What are the Regional Energy and Resources Tables?
The Regional Energy and Resource Tables (Regional Tables) are designed to pursue opportunities for sustainable job creation and economic growth for a low-carbon future. Having grown up in Saskatchewan, I believe that it’s a conversation that can’t be had solely at a national level and that each province and territory has its unique set of resources and opportunities. For example, the options for Quebec will differ from those for Alberta. These Regional Tables are intended to align the work of governments with the private sector, Indigenous Peoples, and labour workers on accelerating the most significant opportunities in each province and territory.
The idea is not to focus on 30 different things we could discuss. The three or four major opportunities can really move the needle in creating jobs and economic growth. For example, in British Columbia, a couple of the areas we’re focusing on are critical minerals, hydrogen, and the electrification of heavy industries. It will be quite different in Quebec as they’re focused on battery production.
The industry has been asking governments for a long time to try and figure out how to work more collaboratively to accelerate the work that needs to be done.
So these Regional Tables will allow us to create action plans to align the resources we’re bringing to the table (because the Federal Government has a pot of money for clean fuels, a net-zero accelerator, and $4 billion allocated for critical minerals). Align those with what the provinces are doing, and look at whether or not additional resourcing is going to be required to achieve the goals that we will jointly establish.
Particularly look at the mining regulatory permitting processes. In this country, it can’t take us 15 years to permit a new mine if we meet the needs for the transition. So again, it’s about alignment and engagement with industry to build tomorrow’s economy.
How do they impact Canadians?
They directly impact Canadians because each province looks to create wealth and economic opportunity for its citizens. This is about creating jobs on the ground and enabling people to understand the energy transition.
Often, we haven’t done a very good job of depicting what this means. When people think of the future, it’s about wind turbines and solar panels. It’s about a lot more than wind turbines and solar panels, and I sometimes think it can be a little scary when people don’t have a clear picture.
I think what the Regional Tables does is they allow us to draw a picture for people that demonstrates that many jobs of tomorrow will need the same skills that exist today. So for people on the ground, it will help them better understand and give them greater confidence about the economic future. For parents, it will provide them with the belief that this can be a world in which we can fight climate change and ensure that the standard of living will be no different from what it is for them.
What would you want Canadians to know about you?
I want to get stuff done. I’m interested in advancing conversations that result in concrete action. What people really want is for governments to work together. They want us to stop having arguments about perspective. We should be getting down to work, and I would say to Canadians that this is exactly what I am trying to do.
What are some of your proudest moments as a minister?
I’ve had the fortune to be in three ministries now. As Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, I decided to renew the Canadian Coast Guard Fleet completely. As Minister of Environment and Climate Change, I was developing Canada’s most comprehensive climate plan, titled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy.” Here in Natural Resources, it has been to turn a lot of talk into action, such as the Regional Tables and the critical minerals strategy.
What should Canadians expect from you next?
They should expect that we will work collaboratively with governments in their respective provinces and territories to accelerate the move toward a prosperous economic future. Build on critical minerals, hydrogen, batteries, and electric vehicles to ensure that our kids’ financial future will be bright.
One of the helpful things in the context of our action plan is that we will be using many new and different technologies, yet the skill sets will be very similar.