A new survey conducted by the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy initiative finds that Canadians aren’t as deeply rooted in differing opinions about energy issues as one might think.
The results arrive amidst growing concerns over polarization following the 2019 federal election, researchers said.
The survey, conducted online in September, engaged 2,679 Canadians and included regional subsamples of over 500 in B.C., the Prairies, Ontario, Québec and Atlantic Canada.
It examined seven “pressing issues” facing Canadians and Canadian policy makers: the federal carbon tax, pipelines, the speed of energy transition, Canada’s energy mix, the oilsands, nuclear energy, and Indigenous consent.
The research focuses on the difference between polarized opinion and fragmented opinion.
“Polarized opinion refers to opinions grouped at the extreme ends of a spectrum. People don’t just agree or disagree, they do so strongly. Fragmented opinion refers to differences of opinion that aren’t necessarily hardened at either end of the spectrum,” researchers said.
“The distinction between fragmented and polarized opinion is critical for decision-makers navigating polarization. Polarized opinions are difficult for governments to deal with because peoples’ opinions may become less malleable and less amenable to compromise.”
Survey results reveal that Canadians don’t agree on a number of energy issues, but they are not always polarized, says Monica Gattinger, chair of Positive Energy and a professor in the University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies.
“This finding is pivotal – it suggests there may be more room for compromise on contentious energy and climate issues than commonly believed,” she said.
Here’s a look at key findings in each of the seven areas:
The federal carbon tax
“We find more support than opposition to the federal carbon tax. However, opinions are polarized along partisan lines,” researchers said.
“Views are more fragmented than polarized across regions (except Prairies and to some extent Quebec, where it tends to polarized) generations.”
“More respondents agree than disagree that the economic benefits of building new pipelines in Canada outweigh the risks of potential spills, tanker traffic, and climate change. Opinion is polarized across partisan lines but fragmented across regions (except Praries and Quebec, where it tends to polarized).”
The speed of energy transition
“Most respondents prefer a balanced transition, with more than two-thirds saying Canada should continue producing oil and gas,” researchers said.
“One in three support aggressively phasing out fossil fuels. Nearly half of all respondents want 100% renewable energy within the next 10 years.”
Canada’s energy mix
“Every region in Canada strongly recognizes the importance of oil, natural gas, and renewable energy to the current Canadian economy. Opinion on nuclear energy is fragmented overall and polarized by region.”
“The idea that Canada can continue to develop fossil fuel resources such as the oilsands and still meet its climate commitments garners more support than opposition, but opinion is fragmented. There are strongly polarized views on this issue along partisan lines.”
“Attitudes toward nuclear energy as a climate solution are fragmented at the national level, but somewhat polarized along regional, generational, and partisan lines.”
“Canadians are fragmented on whether Indigenous consent is the most important consideration for energy projects,” researchers said.
“Opinion is polarized by region, generation and partisan affiliation. Millennials and Gen Z are the only generational cohort to express more support than opposition to the idea.”