Business and policy leaders are not the Canadian energy experts that some of the public may think, according to findings published in the new survey analysis Energy and Energy Literacy in Canada: A Survey of Business and Policy Leadership.
The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary reports that its newly-released July 2012 survey of business leaders and policy makers roughly matches the results of an earlier household survey the school led to gauge the energy IQ of the general public.
“Anyone presuming that leaders in business and policy have a firm understanding of how Canadians get their energy might be startled to discover that, in Ontario, Alberta, the Atlantic region and Saskatchewan, a substantial fraction of these ‘elite’ survey respondents incorrectly identify the primary resource used for energy in their province,” stated the University of Calgary’s authors in their survey analysis.
Officially released in late February 2013, the survey analysis found that only 58 per cent of business leaders and policy makers could identify the primary source of energy in their province, an awareness that varied from province to province. All Quebec-based respondents correctly identified hydro as the top source of power in their province, whereas only 38 per cent of Ontario and Alberta respondents were aware their provinces derive the majority of energy from nuclear facilities and hydroelectric power, respectively.
“In a country where energy is our number one export, it behooves business and policy leaders to know more, to seek more information,” said survey analysis co-author Michal Moore in a March 1, 2013 public statement. “We should be living and breathing the stuff.”
Some 348 business leaders and 241 policy makers participated in the new energy literacy survey. Collectively, they represent public agencies, non-profit and public policy institutions. To qualify, the survey required respondents to have authority to approve energy investments or have some knowledge of energy investments made by their organization.
Just a few months after The School of Public Policy surveyed industry leaders in July 2012, Moore, together with colleagues André Turcotte and Jennifer Winter, wrote a separate analysis aimed at exploring the Canadian energy literacy of the general public. That survey analysis was released on October 31, 2012, and was based on the school’s household survey of more than 1,500 Canadians.
The two survey analyses allow for side-by-side comparison of public opinion and knowledge of Canadian energy issues against the views and knowledge of industry professionals. All of this in a country rich with natural resources and the highest per-capita energy use in North America, primarily due to long travel distances and harsh climatic conditions, the authors stated.
It’s hard to say exactly why business and policy leaders fared so poorly in identifying the primary source of energy in their province, but The School of Public Policy’s authors offered one potential theory in their survey analysis.
“While not definitive, this illustrates a disconnect in basic knowledge regarding supply sources, and ultimately, the most efficient way to use these resources,” the authors stated in their report. “This may indicate a preference as opposed to knowledge (i.e., a preference for cleaner rather than “dirtier” resources). Ultimately, this is important when consumer support for system improvements (such as new transmission facilities) or the choice of alternative power (e.g., nuclear to wind, coal to natural gas) is contemplated by decision-makers.”
Before testing their knowledge of energy characteristics, generation, distribution, use, conservation and byproducts or waste, The School of Public Policy’s more recent survey began by asking business and policy elites to measure their own energy literacy. Seventy-six per cent agreed that they “have a good understanding of energy issues in Canada.” Policy leaders were more likely to be confident than business leaders. Compare this to the authors’ earlier Canadian household survey that showed 60 per cent of respondents think they know at least a little about energy. Strangely, 65 per cent of household respondents also stated that their fellow Canadians do not have a firm understanding of energy issues.
The 2012 household survey found Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta to be the most deficient provinces in terms of energy literacy among the general public.
Next, the industry survey asked business and policy leaders exactly where they get their primary energy information. Television (at an overall 22 per cent) topped the list in most provinces, followed closely by the Internet. Only two per cent of the respondents reported getting energy information through their jobs.
Both surveys explored not just energy IQ, but energy opinions as well.
When business and policy leaders were asked to select the most important issue Canadians face in 2012, energy was ranked as the 10th most important issue out of 12. Of the 12 most common responses, the economy topped the survey’s list, followed by health care. In their survey analysis, The School of Public Policy’s authors described energy as being a “second-tier” issue among business and policy leaders.
Canada’s business and policy leaders also suggested that Canada should become less-dependent on the U.S. for energy exports even if it means at least a temporary drop in revenue for Canada’s economy.