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Giving environmental issues a voice, putting public opinion in the spotlight

A study commissioned by the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy project from Nanos Research Inc. looked at Canadians’ attitudes to climate policy and in hopes of garnering acceptance and support for energy development for renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

The project “is an action research project aiming to use the convening power of the university to bring together key stakeholders in energy,” said Monica Gattinger, chair of the U of O’s Collaboratory on Energy Research and Policy, and associate professor at the School of Political Studies.

The goal is “to take solution-oriented applied research in collaboration to identify how challenges in energy can be addressed,” she said. Energy stakeholders the project targets include academics, government, business, environmental NGOs, communities, and Indigenous peoples.

The study was released Nov. 12, and involved input from 1,000 Canadian adults by phone from Oct. 15–16.

The Positive Energy Project began in March, sponsoring events as well as the study to unite academics, graduate students, and senior fellows at the U of O and other universities. “As an academic institution, we can create a safe space to ask controversial questions that the government or business don’t want to ask or even hear,” said Gattinger.

Especially important given the debate over the “muzzling” of Canadian scientists.

The project has four streams of research interest—inter-regional relations and federalism, the involvement of local communities and NGOs in energy, the opinions of indigenous people in energy development, and energy literacy and public opinion. The study examined the public opinion of Canadians on energy policy.

In March, the project commissioned public opinion research to present at its inaugural conference. The poll reiterates the questions asked in the first poll as well as adding new questions in order to track the shifting opinions.

Ninety-three per cent  of Canadians support or somewhat support the growth of Canada’s energy sector, and 59 per cent support or somewhat support growth in the oil and gas sector. Gattinger said the poll reflects that Canadians want to see this growth in “a way that protects the environment, and that they’re very conscious about climate change.”

The poll also showed that 54 per cent of Canadians think that protecting the environment takes precedence over the economy and job creation.

The survey communicates that Canadians want federal leadership on environmental and energy issues. Seventy-eight per cent of Canadians prefer the federal over the provincial government to take leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A majority of Canadians think that national interest should take precedence over local (57 per cent), Aboriginal (54 per cent), and provincial (58 per cent) interests.

To contrast, Canadians also think that the government at the time did not reflect the environmental wishes of the people. Sixty-one per cent thought that Canada’s environmental policies poorly or very poorly aligned with the interests of Canadians.

Only 13 per cent of Canadians thought that the country has a high or somewhat high level of international credibility in environmental policies and climate change, while 64 per cent thought it had a low or somewhat low level of credibility.

Gattinger said that the “idea is to continue with these polls over the next couple of years and do it semi-annually” to see how opinions shift. She added that with the recent election of a Liberal government, the project “is very curious” to see how the answers might change.