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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May poses with the 'Calgary Raging Grannies' as they join other climate change activists and students for a protest and 'die-in,' on the steps of the Calgary Municipal Building on Sept. 20, 2019.Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, whose election platform proposes a dramatic shift for workers in Canada’s fossil fuel energy sectors, told Calgary voters Friday that transition is less frightening than the changes which will result if Canada fails to act on climate change.

“The future for all of us, including people in the fossil fuel sector, is far scarier if we don’t act. There is no special climate planet called Alberta which can be insulated from the harm,” she told reporters during a campaign stop outside a Calgary train station.

The Greens propose to offer job transition programs for workers in the oil, gas and coal sectors as part of their plan to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60 cent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. As a start, they would budget $400-million in the coming year to help coal workers either retrain or transition to an early retirement.

To soften the impact, the Greens say Canada should turn off the tap to oil imports, using only Canadian fossil fuels and allow investment in upgrades to turn Canadian solid bitumen into gas, diesel, propane and other products for the Canadian market.

Ms. May said the country’s energy workers are highly skilled and will be able to transition, with training support, to new green jobs such as retrofitting orphaned wells to produce geothermal energy.

Decarbonizing the Canadian economy would be felt most in the provinces with the highest greenhouse gas emissions – Alberta and Saskatchewan – but the Greens say their proposal would create new jobs across the country in renewable energy and other programs, such as energy efficiency upgrades for buildings.

Ms. May used Calgary’s Sunalta train station as a backdrop to outline a platform promise to expand Canada’s rail services. She later basked in a welcoming crowd at a climate-change rally outside Calgary’s City Hall. She was not invited to speak at the non-partisan event, but was treated like a celebrity by participants who flocked to have their picture taken with the Green Leader.

Gable Goulet, wearing his hard hat and coveralls, is an electrician in the oil and gas sector who attended the rally. “I love the Green platform,” he said. But he wasn’t sure he would mark a ballot for the Green candidate in his riding, because he doesn’t expect them to win a seat here.

Ms. May said she made the campaign stop in Calgary because she wants to deliver her message in the “heart of the fossil fuel territory.”

Tristan Goodman, president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, which represents junior and mid-sized oil and gas companies, said at least the Green’s pledge to turn off the taps on foreign oil would be welcomed by his members.

“There are benefits to looking at that concept,” he said. “Canada has no issue with being 100 per cent self-reliant with oil or gas.”

According to Natural Resources Canada, the nation produces 3.8 million barrels of oil a day, much of it for export, but also imports 700,000 barrels of oil a day. Canada would have to add new infrastructure to move its oil to the domestic market to make the Green plan work, he said.

Gary Mar, president of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, was also wary of the Green’s proposals. He said there are 450,000 jobs across Canada in the “upstream” energy sector – getting oil and gas out of the ground.

“There is a recognition in the industry that we want to move to cleaner sources of energy,” he said. “We have people investing in renewables. About $1.6-billion invested by oil and gas. So we are already demonstrating responsible behavior , and yet for some reason some Canadians want to foreclose that opportunity.”

Editor’s note: Editor's note (September 21, 2019): Canada imports 700,000 barrels of oil a day. An incorrect figure appeared in an earlier version of this story.

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