Canada's Energy Challenge | SFU Centre for Dialogue
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Energy: Crucial for all Canadians

Canada’s Energy Challenge

The importance of energy

Energy is profoundly important in the lives of Canadians. It heats our homes through the winter, fuels our transportation and powers our electronic devices. The energy sector also creates jobs and helps to generate revenues for businesses and governments in Canada. The way we source, produce and use energy also has an impact on the environment, including releasing greenhouse gases that affect our climate.

In a vast country like Canada, the context of energy is unique within each province, territory, urban area, rural town or Indigenous community. These regional differences can make conversations about energy especially difficult.

When we talk about energy, we talk about our way of life, our identity as a people and our hopes and fears for the future that our children will inherit.

Conversations are often polarized

There are polarized opinions around energy in Canada, in part due to divergent priorities and regional interests. But also because people can find it difficult to empathize with others who have different values and perspectives in relation to energy. This is especially true when considering people from different backgrounds that may live in other parts of the country.

Canadians know a lot about energy, but they often don’t look at the issue from different sides or perspectives—especially if those perspectives don’t align with their own values. 55% of Canadians do not regularly listen to those with whom they often disagree. Nearly half of people in Canada never or rarely change their position on important social issues.

Conversations in the public sphere are also polarizing citizen opinions on energy. Some actors have exacerbated tensions by highlighting differences between diverse regions and sectors without first working to understand various perspectives.

To find common ground on energy issues, individuals need an opportunity to be heard and to consider the values and perspectives of others.

Declining trust

Canadians are losing faith in various institutions and do not trust key voices on energy issues. Public trust in governments, the media and the private sector are on the decline in Canada. This mirrors a trend that is occurring in a number of countries around the world.

A recent Edelman Trust Barometer survey found that only 50% of Canadians rated the business sector as trustworthy, while the media and government were rated as trustworthy by only 45% and 43% of the population, respectively. Key stakeholders—including government officials, regulators and CEOs—were rated as extremely or very credible by only a quarter of the population.

Specific groups within Canadian society lend even less trust than average to key institutions and voices.

Trust in information is also becoming increasingly polarized. While Canadians generally trust specific members of the media, the spread of misinformation through various channels, such as social networks, is challenging Canadians’ faith in a variety of institutions. It is  also eroding the ability of individuals to take informed stances on important topics.

These trust issues have consequences for how public and private sector energy decisions and investments are made in Canada.

People need to have access to evidence-based information and meaningful opportunities to be heard. Over 80% of Canadians say that they would feel better about government decisions if they knew governments regularly sought input from citizens. Canadians also strongly support consultations with representative groups of people rather than those strictly limited to who is affected by a decision.

Meaningful citizen engagement can build trust in institutions and decision-making processes.

Lack of consensus on energy

In Canada, there are sharp regional and political differences around energy with with respect to issues such as the economy, climate change and globalization.

A national survey yielded that 92% of Canadians are concerned about the economy and 69% of the population thinks that the oil and gas industry will be important into the future. While most Canadians accept the scientific reality that our climate is changing as a result of human activity and expect governments to lead on meeting our international commitments, support for this view varies in different regions.

Against a backdrop of global instability and recent geopolitical events, uncertainty around international agreements and trade have made it increasingly difficult to understand how we will produce, use, export and import energy into the future.

Citizen voices are a key ingredient for shaping Canada’s energy future.

Building towards a solution