Convened by the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, citizens were engaged over a series of six cross-country dialogues in fall 2017. Representing Canada’s diversity, they overcame attitudinal and geographic differences to deliberate recommendations for Canada’s energy policy
Problems and Purpose
Convened by the SFU Morris J.Wosk Centre for Dialogue, the Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future engaged approximately 150 randomly selected Canadians over a series of six dialogues held across the country in September and October 2017. This citizen consultation went beyond “the usual suspects” and sought the perspectives of everyday citizens who were reflective of the broader population. Through the process of deliberative dialogue, participants worked together in plenary and in small groups to listen deeply to each other’s perspectives, consider trade-offs and develop recommendations for Canada’s energy future.
The goals of this project were to:
- Provide an opportunity for participating citizens to develop recommendations for critical policy issues related to energy, climate change and the economy.
- Create a shared fact base on Canadian energy that is inclusive to diverse perspectives, credible across stakeholder groups and grounded by evidence-based information.
- Increase knowledge and literacy about potential options for Canada’s energy future, including the associated trade-offs and impacts for each option.
- Depolarize tensions over Canada’s energy future by modelling empathy and dialogue.
- Create high-quality citizen input into Canada’s energy vision and roadmap from Canadians who reflect the full diversity of the country.
- Support NRCan’s larger efforts in citizen and stakeholder engagement as part of its Generation Energy consultation.
The resulting recommendations have been simultaneously released to the public and submitted to NRCan to inform decision-making processes on Canada’s energy future.
Background History and Context
Energy has the most profound implications in each of our lives and those of the people who surround us, from heating our homes, to creating jobs, to producing emissions that alter our environment. 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. Energy in Canada can be a difficult conversation, with Canadians often struggling to agree on what the future of energy should look like. When grappling with a complex and profound question like the future of energy, all too often we shout at each other instead of speaking with each other, separated by vast geographical distances and the challenge of imagining what it is like to be from a place we may never have even visited.
The Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future approached this conversation differently by seeking to understand where representative Canadians can find agreement when considering the best interest of Canada as a whole.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future were independently designed and facilitated by Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and funded under a contribution agreement from Natural Resources Canada as part of the Generation Energy public consultation.
The regional dialogues took place in the following cities in September 2017:
- Vancouver (with participants from British Columbia and Yukon)
- Calgary (with participants from Alberta, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan)
- Montreal (with participants from Quebec)
- Toronto (with participants from Nunavut and Ontario)
- Halifax (with participants from New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island).
The national dialogue took place in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 2017.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Centre for Dialogue worked with market research firm Forum Research to recruit participants who reflected the most relevant geographic, attitudinal and demographic diversities of Canadians. Participants were offered an honorarium of $400 for the regional dialogues and $600 for the pan-Canadian dialogue to encourage participation, especially among low-income earners. Once participants were selected, the Centre for Dialogue’s project team arranged all participant travel, logistics and stipends, which were paid for from the project budget. The project also provided accessibility funding to cover costs such as childcare or support for individuals with disabilities.
Forum Research recruited participants using a two-stage process. First, random digit dialing was used to create a pool of almost 4,000 interested Canadians. Second, final participants were selected from this pool to reflect the diversity of Canadians at large. Primary demographic selection criteria included gender, age, family income, education, Aboriginal identity and visible minority status. Several secondary demographic selection criteria were considered to reduce participation bias, including participants’ employment status, the presence of children under 25 years of age in participants’ households and whether participants voted in the last election (see Appendix E for a full list of recruitment indicators).
Attitudinal diversity was matched to a baseline public opinion poll (see Appendix D for results of the baseline poll), with criteria including whether participants believed meeting Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction targets would positively or negatively impact their financial situation, the relative importance participants placed on the economy versus the environment, and participants’ trust levels in the information provided by environmental groups and industry. A minimum of two participants were recruited from each province and territory for the regional dialogues, with quotas for specific economic sub-regions within larger provinces. At least one participant from each province and territory attended the pan-Canadian dialogue.
In total, Forum Research recruited 190 participants for the regional dialogues. After cancellations and attrition, a total of 146 participants attended a regional dialogue event. The unpredictable nature of attrition increased the margin of error between participant demographics and those of the Canadian population at large. However, the diversity of participants present at each dialogue was qualitatively and quantitatively excellent and marked a substantial improvement over the self-selected participants who frequently attend conventional public engagement events (see Appendix E for detailed recruitment results). Gender balance, youth participation, income distribution, participation by Indigenous people and participation by visible minorities were particularly well-matched to the Canadian population. Some shortages existed in participants aged 25-44 and participants with high school education or less, but the proportion of participants with bachelor’s degrees—a demographic that often dominates public consultations—did not exceed 30% of participants.
The Centre for Dialogue invited 35 of the regional dialogue participants to attend the pan-Canadian dialogue in Winnipeg. Centre for Dialogue staff based participant selection again on geographic, demographic and attitudinal characteristics to ensure that citizens reflected the diversity of Canadians at large as closely as possible. Due to the challenge of meeting the full range of selection criteria with a smaller sample size of 35 participants, the selection process concentrated on age, gender, geographic representation (regional and sub-regional), attitudes towards trade-offs between the economy and the environment, as well as perceived impact of emissions reduction targets on individuals’ financial situation.
Methods and Tools Used
Framing and discussion materials (The full text of the discussion guide as well as the accompanying explainer video can be accessed at www.canadaenergyfuture.ca).
Designed as a deliberative dialogue process, the project provided space for Canadians who reflect the diversity of their country to study an issue at greater depth than typical consultations and make recommendations. The central question addressed by the dialogues was, What should Canada’s energy future look like over the course of a generation and how do we get there? In framing this question, the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue further challenged participants to consider the best interest of the country as a whole. To help ensure that the framing of the dialogue remained neutral and inclusive to a wide range of perspectives, Centre for Dialogue staff produced a discussion guide based on an extensive review of over 40 existing research materials, stakeholder position papers and outcomes from previous public engagement projects. In addition, staff solicited and considered comments on the draft materials through an external review with stakeholders who reflected expertise and interests in financial services, fossil fuel industries, academic research, business advocacy, clean energy, sustainability and energy policy.
The discussion guide used plain language, infographics and other methods to ensure that Canadians have a common fact base when discussing important issues. Such a common fact base enables meaningful dialogue by separating rumour from fact and by closing the gap between public input and the real-world constraints faced by decision-makers.
The discussion guide and an accompanying summary explainer video were sent to participants in advance of the first dialogue and provided:
• Information about the regional dialogues and Generation Energy.
• Factual information about energy systems in Canada.
• An overview of common perspectives on Canada’s energy future, along with evidence-based information about the potential positive and negative impacts of these diverse policy approaches.
• Trends in energy systems around the world.
• Discussion questions for participants to consider.
Regional dialogue process (The detailed process design is available at www.canadaenergyfuture.ca).
Over the course of their two-day regional dialogue experience, citizens participated in a range of large and small group activities to learn about energy issues and develop group recommendations to create an energy future that is in the best interest of Canada as a whole. Major activities at the regional dialogue sessions included:
• What is energy? (small group activity): Participants used flash cards with images and discussion questions to stimulate discussion. The purpose of this exercise was to link the topic of energy to participants’ personal experiences and to allow them to learn about the lives of other participants in their group.
• Energy timeline (large group activity): Participants collaboratively created a timeline of Canada’s energy history from pre-colonial times to today. The purpose of this exercise was to help participants consider how energy systems evolve and change over time.
• Soft shoe shuffle (large group activity):
This activity is part of the Deep Democracy methodology developed by Myrna Lewis. Participants were asked to respond to a series of values-based questions about energy. By physically moving towards statements they agreed with and away from statements they disagreed with, participants explored areas of convergence and divergence in opinion.
• Canada’s energy profile (large group activity): Dissenting participants reviewed information provided in the discussion guide through an explainer video, a presentation and a question and answer session. Centre for Dialogue staff collected outstanding factual questions and provided answers to participants on day two of the dialogue.
• Approaches to Canada’s energy future (large group activity): Centre for Dialogue staff described seven potential approaches for energy in Canada that were included in the discussion guide, including common advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Participants were asked to reflect and share what they personally liked and didn’t like most about each approach.
• Values, interests and assets (large group activity): Participants identified what they saw as the values, interests and assets of Canadians when it comes to energy, with theme clusters identified by facilitators.
• Vision for the future (small & large group activity): Each breakout group moved through four drawing stations that invited them to draw what they imagined their “home”, “community”, “region” and “country” would look like in the year 2050, followed by a large group debrief.
• Criteria for assessment (large group activity): Participants brainstormed potential criteria for deciding Canada’s energy future. Facilitators grouped participant ideas into a list of 6-8 potential criteria, before presenting participants with a list of criteria previously provided by Natural Resources Canada (jobs, greenhouse gas reductions, innovation and international competitiveness). Participants then decided whether to add the NRCan criteria to their list (if not already covered). In a final step, participants voted on their top 3-5 criteria using audience response devices.
• Developing a path forward (small & large group activity): In their breakout groups, participants developed three key actions to shape Canada’s long-term energy future that were in the best interest of Canada as a whole. Where groups didn’t come to agreement on all actions, participants had the option of presenting a minority report. After the presentations, participants were given three votes to identify their preferred actions across all group recommendations.
• Surveys (individual activity): Participants were asked to complete surveys at different stages of the process to measure their attitudes towards energy issues, their support for specific policy actions as well as their satisfaction with the dialogue process. This included a first, brief survey during the recruitment phase, an entrance survey as they arrived on the first day of the regional dialogue and an exit survey after the completion of the regional dialogue.
Pan-Canadian dialogue process:
The pan-Canadian dialogue in Winnipeg was designed to build on the outcomes of the regional dialogues and confirm a final set of consensus recommendations for the future of energy in Canada. Thirty-five of the regional dialogue participants came together over three days to deliberate. Major activities included:
• Reviewing regional outcomes (large group activity): Participants reviewed the results of the regional dialogues, which they also received in report format prior to the dialogue.
• Building on the vision (small & large group activity): Participants from each regional dialogue recreated their vision for the future based on the outcomes of the regional dialogues and discussed similarities and differences between the regional visions.
• Pan-Canadian values, interests and assets (large group activity): Participants reviewed the values, interests and assets that emerged from the regional dialogues and voted on what they thought were the three most important items in each category.
• Pan-Canadian criteria (large group activity): Participants reviewed the assessment criteria that emerged from the regional dialogues and voted on their top choices.
• Addressing trade-offs (small & large group activity): Participants were asked to reflect on where they stand on eight trade-offs related to energy decisions. In a combination of large and small group discussions, participants explored ways to overcome the tensions associated with these trade-offs.
• Consensus building (small & large group activity): In small and large group formats, participants discussed a set of principles and recommendations that emerged from the regional dialogues and the deliberations in Winnipeg. Modifications to the content and language were made and approved in plenary to ensure all participants supported the final version.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Over September and October 2017, these dialogues marked the first time ever that randomly selected citizens met and deliberated across Canada to advise the federal government on energy policy. Coming from different hometowns, perspectives and backgrounds, almost 150 Canadians sat down with one another to learn about each other’s lives and aspirations. Together, they sought a shared path forward in shaping Canada’s energy future, informed by the best evidence-based information available and the spirit of curiosity.
Commissioned by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) as part of its larger Generation Energy public consultation, the dialogues were independently designed and implemented by Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. The deliberative dialogue process used reflects a relatively new way for governments to engage citizens and demonstrates true leadership by NRCan within the global open government movement.
The project consisted of five phases. During the first phase, almost 4,000 participants from all major regions indicated their interest in participating after being contacted by a market research firm using random digit dialing. Approximately 150 of these citizens were selected to ensure that their geographic location, demographic characteristics and attitudes toward energy issues reflected the diversity of Canadians at large.To reduce barriers to participation, citizens were provided with an honorarium, full coverage of travel- related expenses and funding for child care or other support required.
The second phase consisted of the framing of the dialogues and the production of easy-to-understand information materials.A discussion guide and summary video outlined the purpose and context of the dialogues, reviewed a diverse range of ideas and approaches related to this topic and provided factual information about the impacts of different policy options.
The five regional dialogues took place in September 2017 during the third phase of the project. Approximately 30 citizens gathered in each of Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax for two days of deliberations, where they developed concrete recommendations to shape Canada’s energy future.
Thirty-five of the regional participants were invited to participate in the pan-Canadian dialogue in Winnipeg in October 2017 as part of the fourth phase of the project.The selection process again ensured that participants reflected the diversity of Canadians using key demographic and attitudinal criteria. During the three-day dialogue in Winnipeg, participants reviewed and built on the outcomes of the regional dialogues, refining their vision for the future of energy in Canada.
The pan-Canadian dialogue culminated in a final set of consensus recommendations to the government. These recommendations include a set of decision criteria, principles to guide policy and decision-making, as well as specific recommendations related to governance and actions to advance Canada’s energy future. Citizens expressed a strong desire for an energy future that achieves a more sustainable and clean environment while continuing to provide employment and affordable energy.
In their final recommendations, citizens called for a national energy plan supported by independent oversight and a communications strategy. Enabled through education and engagement as well as financial resources, the plan will include actions in four areas: a transition plan for communities affected – in economic and other respects – by the shift to a cleaner and healthier energy system; investments in infrastructure; incentives for clean tech and clean energy; and regulations that provide strict standards with clear accountability and enforcement.
Participants of the pan-Canadian dialogue also worked through a series of trade-offs Canada faces in shaping its energy future. Participants found majority agreement for how to balance several of these trade-offs, including a desire for federal leadership in collaboration with other levels of government, a willingness to shoulder direct financial impacts to support the transition to clean energy, a belief that action is necessary to limit climate change to a 1.5 degree temperature increase, a desire to lead by example on climate action internationally and a preference to take action now using present- day technologies rather than depending on new technologies that may or may not emerge.
Knowledge mobilization was a key component of the project to maximize the impact of the dialogue outcomes on decision-making and the public narrative on the future of energy.
Throughout the project, Centre for Dialogue staff increased awareness about the dialogues through social media engagement and media outreach, including placing opinion pieces in major national publications and giving radio interviews. At the pan-Canadian dialogue, participants discussed their work with stakeholders as part of Natural Resources Canada’s Generation Energy Forum. The presentation of the citizens’ final recommendations was attended by representatives from NRCan, academia, non-profit organizations and industry.
Following the release of the citizens’ recommendation summary “Getting to 2050”, Centre for Dialogue staff presented results to various government and stakeholder audiences and continued public outreach. The latter included connecting dialogue participants with local and other media to further publicize the results of the project.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future provide both a set of specific and actionable recommendations to inform Canadian energy policy, while also serving as a demonstration project for good practices in public engagement. Between the beginning and the end of the regional dialogues, the share of participants who thought it was likely that Canada can develop an energy policy that meets the needs of all regions increased from 53% to 84%, while by the end of the pan-Canadian dialogue, 94% of participants felt that hearing from other participants had a great impact or some impact on their own views. By focusing on the future, providing transparent and evidence-based information, relating policy options to participants’ values, providing space for all viewpoints to be heard and being responsive to participants’ needs and questions, the dialogues managed to achieve a collaborative and productive outcome in one of Canada’s most challenging policy spaces.
Regional dialogue outcomes:
The five regional dialogues produced substantial agreement on elements of Canada’s energy future. Most participants supported an energy transition that results in a cleaner and healthier natural environment or reduces greenhouse gas emissions, with 42 out of 61 proposed actions explicitly supporting these goals, and 9 additional actions involving infrastructure or information that would likely support such a transition.
Participants of the regional dialogues identified the economy and the environment as the most important types of decision criteria when considering Canada’s energy future, including such factors as affordability/ accessibility, international competitiveness, jobs, a sustainable and healthy natural environment and greenhouse gas reductions.
Regional variations in emphasis included additional weight on “affordability” at the Halifax dialogue, on “innovation” at the Toronto dialogue, and on “balancing the economy and the environment” at the Calgary dialogue. Participants at some regional dialogues proposed criteria that were popular within their region but not raised as criteria elsewhere. These included “safety” at the Montreal dialogue, the “impact on people, including Aboriginal peoples” at the Calgary dialogue,“effective and transparent government” at the Toronto dialogue, and a “Canada first approach to energy sovereignty and security” at the Vancouver dialogue.
At each regional dialogue, participants separated into 4 breakout groups to develop a set of actions to create an energy future in 2050 that is in the best interest of Canada as a whole. Most participants supported a transition in Canada’s energy system that results in a cleaner and healthier natural environment or reduces greenhouse gas emissions, with all 20 regional dialogue breakout groups including at least one action towards this goal.
In addition, 6 dominant themes emerged after a detailed review of the recommendations, decision criteria, exit surveys and key messages confirmed by participants at the regional dialogues. These were:
1. New forms of governance and oversight for energy issues.
2. Investments in clean technology research and innovation to build the new energy economy.
3. Incentives to accelerate the adoption of existing green or low-carbon energy technologies.
4. Regulations to protect the environment or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
5. Investing in energy infrastructure that serves Canada and its communities.
6. Addressing impacts on Canadians during changes to our energy economy.
For more detailed results from the regional sessions, see the survey data in Appendix C as well as the Regional Dialogues Summary Report available at www.canadaenergyfuture.ca.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future marked the first time ever that randomly selected citizens met and deliberated across Canada to advise the federal government on energy policy. Coming from different hometowns, perspectives and backgrounds, these participants sat down at the same table to learn about each other’s lives, ideas and aspirations.
Together, participants created recommendations to help inform Canada’s energy future, supported by the best evidence-based information available and the spirit of curiosity. They worked hard to imagine themselves in the shoes of their elected representatives, with all the constraints and trade-offs this entails. In doing so, they provided a critical reference point for government to understand the values and interests of citizens in future policy decisions.
In light of current policy debates about energy in Canada, it is noteworthy that all 35 citizens who attended the final pan-Canadian dialogue in Winnipeg endorsed a single set of consensus recommendations. This level of agreement helps to demonstrate that, while challenging differences of opinion do exist about the present, Canadians are remarkably unified about the energy future they desire.
These recommendations call for Canada-wide collaboration on a national energy plan that encompasses infrastructure investments, technology innovation and regulations. As public engagement practitioners, the facilitators were particularly struck by the amount of emphasis participants placed on measures to restore public confidence in energy decision-making, for instance, by the participants’ call for substantial third-party oversight and reporting. Also noteworthy was the inclusion of a transition plan that would ensure that vulnerable communities and individuals continue to participate in the opportunities our energy future provides. These recommendations remind us that a technically perfect plan may still fall short in achieving the energy future Canadians desire if it fails to address fundamental issues of public confidence and equity.
The Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future reflect a comparatively rare way for national governments to engage citizens and demonstrate true leadership by Natural Resources Canada within the global open government movement. In a world that seems increasingly inclined to tight message control and selective arguments, these dialogues proceeded with complete editorial autonomy so that citizens could examine a full range of ideas and perspectives without censorship. The results speak for themselves.
Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. (2017) Discussion Guide, Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future.
Forum Research. (2017) Recruitment Process Report, September 5, 2017 (updated January 10, 2018).
Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. (2017) Getting to 2050, Citizen Recommendations, Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future.
Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. (2017) Regional Summary Report, Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future.
Regional dialogue “what we heard” reports:
- British Columbia and Yukon
- Alberta, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan
- Nunavut and Ontario
- New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
All materials and additional resources available at www.canadaenergyfuture.ca
Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. (2017) Technical Report, Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future.
To learn more about Deep Democracy, see https://deep-democracy.net/