​Canada’s politicians aren’t energy literate, and it’s crippling the country

Should there be an energy version of the SAT for aspiring Canadian politicians?

We’ve all heard about aspiring American high school students sweating their SATs.

You know, the Scholastic Assessment Test (formerly, now just SAT).

For students, it’s a measure of — and introduction to — the rigours of academic life post high school.

To many, it can be shock to the system because it helps them as learners to understand they need to know a lot more (than they currently know) to be successful beyond Grade 12 as their post-secondary education paths roll out in front of them. Some don't make the grade, so to speak. That’s the point of the process.

SATs function as a filter of sorts; ensuring that those who deserve to succeed actually can do so — based on the premise that knowledge and learning are prerequisites to success.

There’s potentially a lesson in the SAT experience for the way Canada figures out its energy future. It has to do similarly with knowledge, learning and making the grade.

What if Canada’s aspiring provincial and federal politicians had to engage with a similar process vis a vis energy knowledge “testing” before being permitted to let their names stand for office.

Call it the EAT: Energy Assessment Test.

It would score potential politicians on a variety of energy knowledge baselines, across all forms of energy and energy systems — not just oil and gas.

To be successful on the EAT, they would have to study like heck; to engage and grapple with energy-related topics to help deepen their understanding of the energy world’s complexities, domestically and globally. Through the cramming process, they would ideally examine topical and timely energy dynamics in a way that would pre-condition them for the rigours of office that will face them.

Let’s face reality: most politicians currently came to office well-intentioned but ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of energy matters: economic, technical, regulatory, political and so on. What they are equipped with, on all points on the political spectrum, is a particular ideological perspective on energy that is their default position on what they think they know.

It’s not enough. Ideology without the tempering and balancing tensions of practical socio-economic realities is insufficient to drive an energy future which harmoniously sets the environment and the overall economy on parallel paths to success.

Canada’s current state of energy discourse is polarizing and paralysing. We are going nowhere as a country...and fast. At a time when the country should be coalescing around a collaborative future that could set global standards for energy transition excellence, we are actually back-pedalling.

To the degree politicians play a critical interface between voters and other stakeholders (investors, bureaucrats, arms-length regulators, ENGOs etc.) what they know and understand about energy affairs should be a stabilizing force. Instead, that lack of baseline energy knowledge is crippling the country. Instead of leading constructive dialogue, rooted in various ideological positions, politicians are merely exacerbating the divisiveness.

Currently, new politicians learn on the job. It’s a messy process fraught with proverbial landmines. They end up with solutions built on compromise instead of consensus. Bureaucrats — at the senior level themselves astute political animals — often hold more influence than they ought to. Unprepared politicians also take their cues from the day’s headlines, without really understanding media energy illiteracy and ideological orientation are as much part of the problem as their own knowledge gaps.

The SAT process is as much about the preparation for the test as it is about the actual test. It’s about math and writing etc. — basic literacy stuff — but perhaps more important, it’s about critical thinking skills. Being in office is the test itself. Let’s think about the preparation part of more practically and proactively.

In 2019 Albertans and Canadians will go to the polls in provincial and federal elections. Just imagine what might result for our energy future should we elect parties whose members are actually prepared to balance ideology with practical knowledge.

Rod Stewart crooned in Oh La La's chorus: “If I knew what I know now...when I was younger...”

It would be heartening for the politicians currently in office to 'fess up and agree those are words to live by; that in hindsight, they really didn’t know what they were facing when they delivered their nomination papers and set out on the stump.

Canada's energy landscape and narratives that are shaping it might look much different had they been pre-assessed by taking the EAT.