President, Society of United Professionals
Ontario has its work cut out for it in pursuit of reliable energy and heroic climate goals. The nuclear workforce is here to help.
For years — even as Canada and the world set bold emissions targets in the face of the climate crisis — the future of Ontario’s nuclear energy generation program remained uncertain. Despite nuclear power being inarguably the most practical source of low-emission baseload electricity, there was reluctance to commit to the aggressive reinvestment in nuclear infrastructure that would enable a transition to responsible and sustainable growth. Recently, however, it’s become clear to all that the only viable road forward is through a strong nuclear sector, and Ontario is once again speaking in one voice, asking the nuclear workforce to help us walk that path.
“This means more jobs in Canada,” says Michelle Johnston, President of the Society of United Professionals, the trade union representing Ontario’s nuclear professionals. “And it’s not only new jobs for the nuclear workers that operate these plants — you’ve also got the whole Canadian supply chain. These are really high-quality, high-paying jobs that are unionized with good benefits. They’re multi-generational jobs embedded within the community.”
Expanding horizons for future generations
At facilities like the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station on the shore of Lake Huron, it’s not uncommon to see an engineer work their entire career at the power plant, raising children who will go off to university and then return home to take positions at the same plant. Investment in nuclear infrastructure brings economic opportunity for future generations while simultaneously providing energy security and a responsible environmental legacy for the same.
In the clearest indication yet of Ontario’s nuclear renaissance, a plan was recently announced to explore long-term planning for expansion at the Bruce power plant. This announcement came hot on the heels of the Society of United Professionals’ successful renegotiation of their members’ collective agreement at that same generating station. “I know our members are geared up and looking forward to the expansion,” says Johnston. “They’ve rolled up their sleeves and are ready to get to work.”
Opportunities for new workers and upskilled workers alike
With so much work to do, the Society is enthusiastic about the prospects of welcoming many new members through the economic growth and job creation brought by projects of this scale. Johnston sees these new jobs as an essential component of what she calls a just transition.
“As we move away from fossil fuels, there are going to be fewer jobs in that sector, but I firmly believe there’s a tremendous opportunity for a just transition for those workers,” Johnston says. “If you’re a welder in the fossil fuel sector, you can be a welder in the nuclear sector. If you’re an engineer in the fossil fuel sector, with some upskilling and retraining, you could become an engineer in the nuclear sector. We have a member who was pushing a broom at a coal plant when Ontario shut down coal back in 2014. He saw it as an opportunity. He upskilled. He retrained. Today, he’s leading nuclear projects at Ontario Power Generation.”
The Society is also engaged in building partnerships to help traditionally underrepresented segments of the population — women, Indigenous people, and other diverse and marginalized groups — so that they have the opportunity to enter the industry. Their partnership with Indspire to provide post-secondary scholarships to Indigenous students has been a huge success. “We have to open up the pathways and remove the barriers,” says Johnston. “We have to leverage every opportunity we have, because Ontario’s future generations depend on our success. Our planet depends on it.”
The gravity of this undertaking is not lost on Ontario’s nuclear engineers, operators, and other professionals. They take great pride in keeping Ontario safe, sustainable, and powered. They know that whenever we walk into a room and turn on the lights, whenever we charge an electric vehicle or employ an electric heater against the cold Canadian winter, we’re depending on them. They want us to know we can keep depending on them.
Ontario’s green energy future begins at thesociety.ca.