In early January, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced the federal government would soon be unveiling its highly anticipated legislation for a just transition, including a plan for helping workers and communities in the oil and gas sector shift into renewable energy industries like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.
The announcement triggered immediate reaction from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who declared the yet-to-be released bill shortsighted, ill-conceived, and harmful to Albertans. Environment Minister Sonya Savage added that the term “just transition” was offensive and indicative of the federal government turning its back on the oil and gas industry.
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However, EcoAnalytics research suggests the Alberta premier and her minister may be out of step with most Albertans on this matter. In a national survey last April, we asked Canadians, including Albertans, how they felt about a transition off oil and gas and, specifically, what they thought of the government supporting a “just” or “fair” transition that would support oil and gas workers moving into new, less polluting jobs and industries. The survey, conducted by Environics for EcoA, showed that Albertans want a transition just as much as other Canadians. Like other Canadians, they want to see action on this issue, now—as they understand the need to move quickly.
Almost 70% of Canadians surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the following statements, with Albertans showing the same or similar levels of support for a transition as the rest of Canada.
• 71% of Canadians and 69% of Albertans agreed or strongly agreed that Canada should invest now in a transition while helping people/businesses lower energy use and save money?.
• 69% of Canadians and 67% of Albertans agreed or strongly agreed that Canada should invest now in a transition because we are already incurring significant costs from extreme weather.
• 67% of Canadians and 64% of Albertans agreed or strongly agreed that Canada should invest now in a transition rather than face higher costs if we have to undertake a faster transition later.
And when it comes to supporting a “just” transition, Albertans respond even more favourably than the Canadian average. 68% of Canadians and 71% of Albertans agreed or strongly agreed with the following statement:
• Governments in Canada should help oil and gas workers and their communities make a just transition to new job opportunities in a clean, more sustainable economy.
Albertans’ self-interest probably explains this difference—as it would for any of us facing the same economic and job challenges. But despite the premier’s and her minister’s grumbling, it appears that Albertans do want this transition.
EcoA data does show, as Savage suggests, that “just” transition may not be the best term to use in conversations with Albertans. The OMNI survey looked at the difference in support for the above statement using the term “just” transition vs. “fair” transition. Support among Albertans jumped to 86% when the term “fair” transition was used, compared to 71% for a “just” transition. Elsewhere in Canada, the two terms performed equally, except among respondents who identified as likely supporters of the federal Conservatives—68% of whom preferred “fair”, compared to 57% for “just”.
Other qualitative research by EcoA last summer examined perceptions, concerns, and barriers to support for a transition to renewable energy. The online focus groups asked participants to discuss the impact on communities of a cap on oil and gas sector emissions and a clean electricity grid. While many felt Canada can’t afford not to adopt those strategies, there was significant concern and empathy for the communities, families, and regions that will be disproportionately affected by a move away from oil and gas.
The takeaway? Canadians, including Albertans, do want a fast transition off oil and gas, but support increase greatly if Wilkinson’s bill details the appropriate funding, resources, and support to make sure the process is right for workers, businesses, and communities.
If you would like to know more about what Canadians think about climate change policies, action, and issues, visit EcoAnalytics’ searchable database, where you can download free reports, surveys, and tabulated results and communications guidance generated since 2016.