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Eye On Boise

PNWER working to open thousands of oil sands jobs to Idaho workers…

Lyle Stewart, minister of agriculture for the province of Saskatchewan and president of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, at the Idaho Capitol on Thursday. (Betsy Russell)
Lyle Stewart, minister of agriculture for the province of Saskatchewan and president of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, at the Idaho Capitol on Thursday. (Betsy Russell)

There are more than 100,000 unfilled jobs in the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, and thousands more in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, according to a Canadian official who visited the Idaho Legislature this week as part of a delegation from the Pacific Northwest Economic Region – and if a PNWER effort gets off the ground, Idaho workers could have a crack at some of them. Lyle Stewart, pictured here, minister of agriculture for Saskatchewan and president of PNWER, said the idea is to find skilled American workers – particularly targeting returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan – to head up to the oil sands for temporary work.

Due to recent regulatory changes in Canada, Stewart said, “A U.S. worker can work temporarily in Canada for up to four years.” PNWER has launched a pilot project, first targeting the Puget Sound area, where there’s a large pool of unemployed skilled workers. Canadian companies have been recruiting there. “There will be follow-up to that,” he said. “Depending on the success of that, we foresee that it will spread to other jurisdictions, specifically Idaho.”

The jobs are for heavy equipment operators, welders, steamfitters, pipe fitters, electricians, construction trades and more. “We hope to expand it across the PNWER region,” Stewart said. PNWER is a public-private partnership that includes five states and five Canadian provinces; it works for regional and bi-national cooperation, particularly on economic development and environmental issues. Click below to read more.

The group already has met with Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and has a meeting with Pentagon officials Feb. 3 about the jobs.

Matt Morrison, PNWER executive director, said part of the idea is to capitalize on skills that U.S. and Canadian soldiers developed working side-by-side in Afghanistan; Congress has been receptive to recognizing those standardized skill sets, but Canadian approval still is pending. The workforce is just one of an array of projects the cross-border group is working on this year; the group made presentations to several legislative committees this week including one focused on transportation, because huge amounts of Canadian products move through Idaho on their way to the west coast; and hosted a pizza lunch for Idaho lawmakers.

The group also highlighted ongoing work on border-crossing issues; trade issues; energy issues and more. Said Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, outgoing vice president of the group, “It’s surprising the amount of economic benefit that is derived to Idaho because of our relationship and purchase and sale of goods across the border.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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