A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making


Energy development sometimes faces powerful local opposition in communities across Canada. Energy companies have found themselves under the microscope and regulators have been forced to confront their evolving role in this new context. New research from the University of Ottawa and the Canada West Foundation shows, however, that the nature of this opposition, and the underlying concerns, are often not what opinion leaders and political decision-makers have assumed. Importantly, local opposition is not restricted to pipelines and oil sands, and it is often not about climate change.

This article is derived from the second and final report of a project designed to better understand what drives community confidence in energy project decision-making processes. The project aimed to develop a better understanding of the relationship between local communities and public authorities in energy development; identify reasons for shortcomings respecting trust and confidence; and develop ideas for restoring trust and confidence.

Two closely linked research questions were explored in the study:

  • What are the factors that lead to greater satisfaction in local communities with the energy infrastructure siting process? and
  • What is the level of local community confidence in the actions of public authorities towards new energy infrastructure?

The project arose from one primary observation: that the growing national debate about confidence in energy project decision-making processes has too few voices from local communities themselves. In other words, while many local communities are raising concerns about specific projects, those concerns are not necessarily being translated into broad insights or conclusions that could be applied across other projects or communities. There is also much talk and conjecture about what communities think, why they respond in particular ways to energy project decision-making processes, and the role of regulators, proponents, policy-makers, local leaders and local or regional and national NGOs in the process. There is relatively limited empirical knowledge of what happens on the ground in communities. Given this, we set out to undertake a series of community-level case studies.

Approach and Methodology

The preliminary research undertaken in advance of the detailed case study research was captured in an interim report entitled: Fair Enough: Assessing Community Confidence in Energy Authorities.1 It drew on a series of interviews with energy leaders across the country and a review of academic literature to establish the analytical foundation for the case studies. The case studies were assessed by a combination of semi-structured interviews (86 in total across the six communities), and by telephone surveys reaching 1795 residents between July 26 to September 7, 2016 in four of the target communities.2 Details on research design and methods can be found in the final report (A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making).3

The concepts of trust and confidence ran through all the literature (Nourallah, 2016)4 and the vast majority of the senior level interviews. By itself, however, the lack of trust and confidence tells us little about what to do. More tractable insights can be found by projecting our understanding through the further lens of “fairness” and organizing our approach to that term under four dimensions as outlined below. The analysis of the six community case studies that are discussed in this article is organized as such.

See table below.

Dimensions contributing to trust and confidence Key characteristics
Context The nature of the community and the project, important external influences, including experience elsewhere and the planning and regulatory frameworks.
Values and interests Multiple and often contradictory. Perceptions of costs, benefits and risks. Negotiable and non-negotiable aspects.
Information and capacity Public use of, and trust in, the information underlying the decision-making process. Ability to gain and use appropriate information.
Engagement and participation in the decision-making process The opportunity for the public to meaningfully participate in, and influence, decisions.


The findings – organized around the above concepts and briefly outlined below – tell the story of residents, mainly in small or rural communities, and their experience with regulatory processes.

Our research shows plainly that opposition to energy projects in Canada extends well beyond the oil sands and associated pipelines, to various types of energy projects. A number of our case studies look at electricity projects – a power line, a hydroelectric dam, gas-fired power plants and a wind farm. Some were approved and some were not. Some were built with community support and some over the protest of communities.

Also, while many decision-makers continue to assume that concerns about climate change drive local opposition, our research shows that this is not the case. Other factors have emerged as being far more important, including: safety, need, distribution of benefits, local environmental impacts (e.g., water contamination), restrictive consultation/communication practices, and lack of local involvement in decision-making.

From shale gas exploration on the East Coast to wind farms in central Canada to a proposed pipeline terminus on the West Coast, local authorities and communities are demanding an increasing role in how economic and environmental decisions by third parties affect their future. One thing seems very clear – the world of elite, centralized decision-making with minimal local engagement is fast becoming a thing of the past.

It is difficult to capture the insights from six diverse case studies in a few words, and attention to the case study synopses will be rewarding but in the briefest of terms we can make the following observations:

  • Context matters. In all the case studies, various contextual factors governed the degree of community confidence in the process and outcome. Key factors include legacy experiences with past projects and the local and rural culture that creates a context in which the energy project and regulatory process are inherently intrusive. We need to build flexibility and understanding into processes to respond to diverse realities.
  • Interests, while important, played a secondary role to values. Negotiable factors, such as jobs, community investment and resource rents, mattered but in most cases  were secondary compared to values. There are cases where deeply held values – such as a rural  environment, clean air or simply the importance of being treated openly and fairly – dominate community views. It is clear that speaking to economic interests alone will not shake people from these values.
  • Information matters but energy literacy is not the issue. Broadly speaking, the case study communities acted to inform themselves and approached the issues with some measure of objectivity, but the timing, channels, sources, and the nature and quality of the information affected community confidence in the decision-making process. While there is no ideal information strategy, “information about information” – who has it, where it is, how one gets it – matters from the outset.
  • Engagement has to be real and early in the process. Across the six cases, engagement took many different forms but came up short in several respects. Engaging the community should be about more than notices and a few town hall meetings. It should involve real consultation with the possibility that plans may change. Going further, it can involve true collaboration with the community acquiring a substantive role in the process and even a direct stake in the project.

Case studies examined in table below.

The Case Studies

Project and Community Approved or not, built or not (if built, when) Primary jurisdiction responsible Linear / regional / local Power / fuel; fossil / renewable
Northern Gateway Energy Pipeline
– Kitimat and Haisla Nation, British Columbia
Approved but not (yet) built Federal government Linear Fuel transport; fossil
Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL)
– Eckville-Rimbey, Alberta
Approved, built and in service December 2015 Alberta provincial government Linear Power transmission; fossil and renewable
Wuskwatim hydro-electric facility
– Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN), Manitoba
Approved, built and in service June 2012 Manitoba provincial government Local Power; renewable
Urban natural gas power stations
– Oakville and King Township, Ontario
Oakville – not approved
King – approved, and in service May 2012
Ontario provincial government Local Power; fossil
Wind farm
– St-Valentin, Québec
Not approved Québec provincial government Local / regional Power; renewable
Shale gas exploration
–Kent County and Elsipogtog Nation, New Brunswick
Not approved New Brunswick provincial government Regional Fuel; fossil


Community Case Studies: Quick Reference Guide


Northern Gateway Energy Pipeline – Kitimat and Haisla Nation, B.C.

Northern Gateway is the name given by its sponsor Enbridge to a proposal for a pipeline linking Bruderheim, Alta., and Kitimat, B.C., to carry 525,000 barrels a day of diluted bitumen. If built, the pipeline would traverse 1,176 kilometres, mainly in northern B.C., touching on the territories of more than 50 Indigenous groups in northwestern B.C. The delivered product would be transshipped onto oil tankers at the deep-water port of Kitimat and the tankers in turn would traverse the Douglas Channel before reaching open water.

The principal regulatory authority in this case was the National Energy Board, which established and implemented a Joint Review Panel (JRP) under the authority of both the NEB Act5 and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA)6.

The project became one of the most controversial energy projects in Canada in recent years. It faced opposition at various stages from its inception through the regulatory (Joint Review Panel) process, and from different groups, including many ENGOs (Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations), Indigenous communities and residents in communities affected by the project. Despite receiving conditional approval from the JRP, the project has not gone forward. Its future prospects are heavily clouded by a proposed federal ban on tanker traffic on the north coast of B.C. and a June 2016 court ruling that the government did not meet its duty to consult with affected Indigenous groups.

Key observations:

  • It was apparent in the interviews and polling that the community was split on the project. One in two of the polled Kitimat residents support or somewhat support the Northern Gateway project, while two in five oppose or somewhat oppose it.
  • Concerns in the affected communities covered by this case study (Kitimat and the Haisla Nation) centred on safety and spill risk. Three in four residents agreed or somewhat agreed that the pipeline increases the risk of an accident that could harm the environment in their community and beyond. Other communities along the pipeline route were also concerned about spills, as well as disturbance of relatively untouched wilderness.
  • Overall, Kitimat residents had a fairly low level of confidence in public authorities, 54 per cent of polled residents did not trust the regulators to make decisions about energy projects.
  • As the opposition to the Northern Gateway project grew, it became about more than just the project. For groups outside the directly affected communities, the project became a vehicle to raise broader issues, such as linking shipment of fossil fuels with climate change.
  • The possibility of a refinery changed the discussion in Kitimat. Many in Kitimat thought that, when exporting Canada’s resources, it is important to extract as much value and jobs as possible from that commodity. There is a narrative on the West Coast that can be summarized as, “bitumen bad, refined product good.”
  • In the eyes of the community, both the proponent and the regulator failed on the engagement front. The factors highlighted were the method, timing (not early enough), and lack of genuine engagement with the community.
  • One of the biggest failures of this project, identified by project supporters and other interview participants, was the lack of sensitivity to community context and a local voice on the project to advise the proponent and regulators along the way.

Western Alberta Transmission Line (WATL) – Eckville and Rimbey, Alberta

The WATL is a 500 kilovolt direct current (DC) power line between Genesee and Langdon, Alberta. WATL was built and is owned by AltaLink Management Ltd., Alberta’s largest regulated electricity transmission company. The initial WATL project application was submitted in 2011. However, the WATL was preceded by AltaLink’s North-South transmission project, which was initiated in 2004 and went to Energy and Utility Board (EUB) hearings in 2007. This process was highly controversial and led to eventual suspension of the project; it had an important influence on the attitudes toward the subsequent WATL project.

One unusual aspect of the case was a scandal in 2007. It was revealed that the EUB hired private investigators to eavesdrop on the landowners who were opposed to the North-South transmission project. Coupled with other concerns, the incident damaged the EUB’s credibility as an independent quasi-judicial board leading it to be disbanded. The project was marked by shifting regulatory process, institutions, and legislative changes. WATL was eventually approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC, the successor organization to the EUB) following a new round of hearings, but the controversy over the previous proposal made the project politically charged and eroded some of the provincial government’s historic political support in rural areas.

Key observations:

  • The single biggest concern landowners had with the project was the decision not to conduct a public needs assessment at the time the project was brought forward. Landowners felt the line was simply unnecessary and therefore not worth the disruption it would create. More than half of the polled residents said a fair needs assessment demonstrating the necessity of the line would have changed their support for the line.  After needs, the major concern was the impact of the line on property values and agricultural operations (62 per cent agreed or somewhat agreed).
  • There was broad agreement in the interviews that the community and landowners did not trust the regulator to make a fair decision in the public interest of Albertans. There was a general sense that the process was “rigged” from the beginning and the regulator was not independent from industry and government. Sixty per cent of residents that were polled did not trust public authorities making decisions about energy projects and thought the regulator is not independent from government and industry.
  • Trust, once lost, is hard to regain. In the minds of interview participants, the experience with the EUB in the ill-fated initial process could not be separated from the subsequent WATL project. Feelings of mistrust and disrespect lingered throughout the WATL process, despite efforts to address some problems that were initially encountered. Today, 71 per cent support or somewhat support the WATL line but 58 per cent don’t think regulators are independent in their decisions.
  • The case study identified a disconnect between regulators and rural Alberta. Most notably, landowners highlighted the regulator’s lack of understanding of the rural farmer context (e.g., scheduling hearings during peak harvest season).

Wuskwatim hydroelectric facility – Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Manitoba

The Wuskwatim project initially was supposed to be a generating station and power dam on the Burntwood River in northern Manitoba. Over the course of consultations on the project, it was significantly redesigned as a low head dam (i.e., low fall of water) project with negligible flooding and a reduced generating capacity of 200 MW. The proponent was Manitoba Hydro, wholly owned by the Government of Manitoba. There was a joint regulatory process in this case, primarily in the hands of the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC) in cooperation with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Wuskwatim was the first example in Canada of a utility company (Manitoba Hydro) and an Indigenous community (Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation [NCN]) entering into a partnership to develop a major generating station. The community was divided; while many community members valued the economic benefits and job opportunities, numerous issues were brought up during the hearings. These included environmental concerns about the project’s impact on habitat, animals and water quality. A recurring theme was the legacy of mistrust based on adverse impacts from previous hydro projects, including increased flooding and a belief that Manitoba Hydro had broken promises. This sentiment was strong not only within NCN but also in other nearby Indigenous communities.

Key observations:

  • Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation input during the design and planning phase of the project led to significant redesign. Input included combining the integration of traditional knowledge with scientific knowledge during the environmental assessment studies.
  • Engagement did not stop with the construction of the project. For instance, traditional ceremonies were conducted before starting construction and continued throughout the six-year construction period. There was ongoing engagement with NCN about the monitoring and evaluation process.
  • The proponents had to adapt to changes in regional power markets, which altered the projected profits and economic benefits for the community. This involved further consultations and changes to the project agreement. Changes included additional investment options and clarification of the jobs provision of the original agreement.

Gas-fired power facilities – Oakville and King Township, Ontario

This case study compared two natural gas electricity generation plant sites in the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area. The proposed gas plants in the Town of Oakville (west of Toronto) and King Township (north of Toronto) were part of a province-wide initiative to upgrade and increase generation capacity in the wake of decisions to close coal-fired plants and lay-up a number of nuclear generation stations. Through 2006-2007, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) engaged in a broad integrated power system planning process to determine the need for new facilities, including these two.

The power system planning process resulted in the siting of more than 30 electricity generation and transmission projects from 2006 until 2014. There were competitive procurement processes, in which various developers put together differing solutions (sites, facility design, locations) in response to a request for proposals. The province then determined the winning proposals through a point-based assessment process. Many (but not all) of the concerns discussed in this case study were ultimately addressed by a set of recommendations for planning and siting, by the OPA and the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) in 2013 and by the merger of both entities in 2015.


In August 2008, the Ministry of Energy directed the OPA to competitively procure an 850 MW combined cycle gas generation facility in the region. Oakville residents organized resistance to the plant primarily after TransCanada Corporation won the competition. In March 2009, Oakville passed an interim control bylaw to suspend progress while also engaging in substantive opposition activities based on environmental concerns. The Ontario Municipal Board upheld Oakville’s bylaw in December, and a variety of other regulatory processes were used by Oakville to slow or stop the process. In October 2010, the Ontario government cancelled the plant and engaged in negotiations and planning with TransCanada for an alternate location in Napanee, where the plant will be operational in 2018.

King Township

The need for the King Township generation facility was generally identified in 2005 as part of an Ontario Energy Board request to the OPA to address growing needs in the broad North York Region (and later as part of the broader Ontario Energy Plan). Throughout 2008, the OPA engaged in a competitive procurement process, ultimately deciding on the York Energy Centre in King Township.  As Oakville had done, the municipality passed an interim control bylaw in January 2010. In July, however, the Ontario government passed Order in Council Regulation 305/107 which exempted the generation facility from the Planning Act8 (specifically as concerned siting in the Greenbelt, an environmentally protected area) and also from local regulations (e.g., changes in local zoning or planning rules). Lawsuits and other administrative procedures were unsuccessful; the plant was built and began generating power in March 2012.

Key observations:

  • Both cases were characterized by significant concerns with political interference and lack of regulatory independence. These actions occurred both during and after the procurement processes. Similar concerns were expressed about the cancellation of the Oakville plant, and regulations to exempt the King Plant from environmental regulations, or municipal laws. Over 65 per cent of residents expressed concerns for regulatory independence from government or industry.
  • Many stakeholders complained that no comprehensive process existed to integrate concerns for safety, need, economics, environmental impacts, and community qualities. Many aspects of the siting process minimized certain kind of impacts, or did not allow them to be considered. These kinds of concerns were the basis for opposition for over 60 per cent of the residents who were opposed. Over 70 per cent of all respondents were concerned about local environmental impacts.
  • The competitive procurement process created a dynamic in which potential participants were forced to pay attention to multiple possible sites and developers, making it quite difficult to devote appropriate resources to the siting process. Residents also complained that consultation did not occur, and that communication was one-sided. Over 50 per cent of residents were concerned about the lack of opportunity to influence the process, especially early on.
  • Residents complained extensively about the difficulty of getting detailed information from the regulators and developers. Forty per cent of residents had concerns for the lack of information availability.

Wind farm – St-Valentin, Québec

The TransAlta St-Valentin project was selected by Hydro-Québec in 2008 from a call for tenders for wind power production in Québec (2005-2007). The project was to be situated in the southern part of the province, 50 kilometres from Montreal, providing a total capacity of 51.8 MW from 19 turbines of two MW and six turbines of 2.3 MW. A change of proponent during the project – known as a “flip” – undermined relations with stakeholders (flipping is frequent in the sector and involves the sale of the project to a new proponent after a procurement contract is secured but before the implementation phase).

St-Valentin, with 500 inhabitants, is the smallest of the 14 municipalities that comprise the Haut-Richelieu MRC (Municipalité régionale de comté). The main economic activity in the municipality and surrounding region is agriculture. The large areas of flat agricultural land are considered among the best in Québec. St-Valentin is situated along the Richelieu River, near the municipality of St-Paul-de-l’île-aux-Noix and close to Lake Champlain. It is a popular boat access point to the United States.

After a series of meetings starting in 2006 with landowners (those on whose lands the turbines would be installed), followed by the formal support of the municipality (and an official royalty agreement), and the awarding of a procurement contract by Hydro-Québec in 2008, the environmental impact assessment was undertaken in 2010. The Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) was responsible for the public hearings, the Environmental Department for the general process and the provincial government for the final decision.

Minimal consultation and potential for project modification led to opposition from St-Valentin’s citizens and a coalition of the mayors of surrounding municipalities. The BAPE recommended the project be rejected and the provincial government did so in July 2011, based on the judgment that it fundamentally lacked the social acceptance necessary for sustainable development. The decision by the BAPE combined with lower demand for wind power, because other projects had been developed as part of the government’s second call for projects, led to the project’s cancellation.

Key observations:

  • At the outset, the wind power sector was driven by purely political decisions aimed at the economic development of a specific region (Gaspésie), and by an important member of the Québec government. Both factors eroded the perceived legitimacy of the sector.
  • The project was proposed during the development phase of the wind energy sector. The procedures and the rules were not clearly defined, especially at the regional/local level.
  • The consultation and decision processes:
    • Were not adapted to the regional scope and impact of the project, i.e., they were not open enough to municipalities neighbouring St-Valentin. Furthermore, consultation and negotiation were too restrictive to allow for modification of the project from a citizen perspective.
    • The two-step process of a decision to award procurement tenders and then a final governmental authorization interacted with the “flip” to a new proponent and undermined the trust in both the proponent and public authorities.
  • The opposition was well-organized, with regional, provincial and international expertise and experience. The BAPE public hearings created conditions favourable to the opponents.
  • The estimated impact on the landscape made the project incompatible with the agricultural nature of the area and country living. The project was very close to the Richelieu River with its rich biodiversity. The presence of a number of prosperous local farmers and retired professionals at the hearings reinforced this effect.

Shale gas exploration in Kent County – Elsipogtog Nation, New Brunswick

As part of attempts to participate in the continental growth of the shale gas industry in 2010, the New Brunswick government awarded Texas-based SWN Energy Co. licences to explore 20 per cent of the province for shale gas potential, including large parts of Kent County in southeastern New Brunswick. This area, chosen for the case study, features a mix of coastal and inland villages, forested areas and the Elsipogtog Nation reserve community, which makes up approximately a tenth of the 30,800 residents in Kent County. The context of Kent County includes a history of expropriation, low literacy rates and a unique blend of Acadian, Anglo and Elsipogtog Nation cultures. Persistent protests and blockades of exploration activity occurred throughout the summer of 2013 in Kent County, culminating in violent clashes in the fall of 2013. As part of the protest, Mi’gmaq people from across the Maritimes claimed treaty obligations to protect the area.

After exploration licences were issued in 2010, public protests in different exploration areas across New Brunswick, including Kent County, caught regulators (Departments of Energy and Mines, and of the Environment and Local Government) flat-footed. The province introduced a series of rules in 2011 and again in 2013 to address water contamination concerns, but public opposition remained high. A new provincial government elected in October 2014 carried out its promise to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in December 2014. The new government appointed a commission to hold hearings across the province throughout 2015 to find out more about the root issues underlying public concern. The commission issued its report in early 2016 and in May 2016 the government extended the moratorium indefinitely.

Key observations:

  • Interviews and survey questions revealed high levels of opposition to hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (70 per cent opposed or somewhat opposed) and that water contamination concerns were the most important issue for community members. Opposition levels reached 80 per cent for Indigenous residents.
  • For some involved in the industry and in the business community, the fact that shale gas extraction, including hydraulic fracturing, had taken place in the southern Sussex region of the province without incident meant that risks were known and manageable and offered economic development benefits.
  • Interviews and survey questions revealed a general lack of confidence in the ability of regulators to oversee a relatively new technology like hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas. A majority (59 per cent) express low confidence in the capacity of regulator to enforce rules. Some also saw a problematic dual role played by the Department of Mines and Energy as both a proponent and regulator of the shale gas industry.
  • Public trust in authorities was eroded as prominent public authority figures were forced to resign in scandal or were perceived to have been fired for criticism of shale gas development.
  • Two-thirds of Kent County residents reported an increase in their level of confidence in public authorities responsible for shale gas regulation as a result of the moratorium decision.
  • In the final analysis, publicly elected representatives decided the shale gas energy resources could not be developed in a way that would garner social acceptance.

Conclusions and recommendations

In this section, we bring together our observations and conclusions from both the interim report and from the case studies. We have endeavored to take it as far as possible toward propositions on which public authorities can act.  We acknowledge that many fine sounding ideas are easy to say but much harder to execute. Ability to implement is affected by resource constraints, practical difficulties, the vicissitudes of politics and the modern communications environment.

Project proponents and public authorities alike need to be highly sensitive to the context in which the decision process is taking place. By the same token, the advice flowing from our work needs to be understood with both the larger societal context and the specific context of individual projects in individual jurisdictions. The latter, clearly, need to be taken into account case by case.

The decision-making context has changed from that which prevailed even up to early in this century. The natural tendency of communities to be distrustful of outsiders, combined with the newer contexts of low trust in government and a supercharged communications environment, have made traditional decision-making processes inadequate to the task in the future. The world of elite, centralized decision-making is a thing of the past.

We heard in the interim report interviews and saw in some case studies that decision-makers, including energy regulators, are grappling with this new reality. Much of it, however, is in the form of adjustments to the basic model rather than fundamentally rethinking the decision-making structure. Policy-makers talk of reformed processes but most have gotten little further than vague notions of social licence where everyone and every community is a decision-maker and where, inevitably, the predominant decision is no decision at all.

This is occurring in a context where new energy infrastructure is needed and where competitive pressures demand more, not less, efficient processes. The dominant controversies concern infrastructure to underpin our traditional energy economy. But the vast majority of future decisions will focus on new “clean” energy infrastructure to underpin a very low GHG economy. As the case studies show, clean energy may be as controversial as hydrocarbon energy at the local community level. Aspirations for a radical transformation of our energy systems by 2030 or even 2050 are at odds with the context in which energy decision-making will be taking place. Policy-makers who ignore this reality risk making the transformation even harder and more time consuming than market realities might suggest. Thus, we offer the following broadly framed recommendations.

1.  There is a need for a basic rethink of energy decision-making structures.

The most basic question is: What is fair in terms of both outcome and process? Presumably, in a society where we count among our most basic values democratic accountability and the rule of law, fairness is to be found in systems that provide some guarantee of those values.Fairness also warrants an ongoing capacity to engage citizens in the thought process about our collective energy future. Communities will insist that the public policy rationale for new projects be well-articulated and debated in the public domain. Public policy issues that warrant larger discussion include the future of Canada’s single largest export industry (oil and gas); alternative pathways toward a low carbon future along dimensions of cost-effectiveness, efficiency, reliability and safety; the distribution of benefits; regional planning; and finding an appropriate balance between local concerns and the larger public interest in providing access to energy supplies.

2. We need to rethink the structure and operations of energy regulatory bodies.

The regulatory system is complex with many different sorts of bodies that interact with each other and with the broader policy system. Recent attempts by governments to develop seamless one-stop shopping, simplifying the system and making it more expeditious have, in many cases, been counterproductive. We need to rethink the basic idea of the independent regulator, restoring regulators to positions of legitimacy at the same time ensuring effective and productive relationships between regulators and policy makers. We need to develop new, flexible and credible means of engaging outside the formal processes, and innovative approaches, such as regulatory co-creation, to include civil society organizations and communities within formal processes.

3. We need a fundamental rethink of the “role of local”.

Indigenous governments and local (municipal) governments are taking a growing role in thinking through their economic and energy futures but government decision-making processes were established long before this reality emerged. We need to think through the fundamental importance of community planning and the appropriate powers and roles of local authorities in project decision-making. Set against that is the question of when and under what circumstances it is the responsibility of a local community to defer to the interests of the broader society.

4. We need a basic rethink of how information affects decision-making.

Canada, for all its energy aspirations, is remarkably poor when it comes to energy information, particularly compared to the United States. More timely information communicated by credible parties may help to build trust and design viable decision processes.None of this will come about easily or without cost. The sorts of decision processes implied in the above propositions will be more time consuming, they will constrain political choice and they will require administrative resources. They will entail potentially significant additional costs for projects to accommodate local concerns. They will require patience, particularly as Canadians contemplate the transformation of their energy systems to low carbon configurations. And they will still entail tough political choices when the wishes of local communities can’t be reconciled with the interests of the broader society.

*Michael Cleland is a Senior Fellow with the Positive Energy Program at the University of Ottawa.
Shafak Sajid – Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation
Stephen Bird –  Associate Professor of Political Science, Clarkson University, New York and Fulbright Research Chair in Governance & Public Administration, University of Ottawa
Louis Simard – Associate Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa
Stewart Fast – Senior Research Associate, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa

  1. Michael Cleland & al, Fair Enough: Assessing Community Confidence in Energy Authorities (Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa, 2016).
  2. Two of the communities, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN), Manitoba and St-Valentin, Québec had inadequate population from which to draw a statistically significant sample and there is, therefore, no quantitative data for those communities.
  3. Michael Cleland & al, A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making, (Ottawa: University of Ottawa and Canada West Foundation, October 2016) [Forthcoming].
  4. Laura Nourallah, Communities in Perspective: The Dimensions of Social Acceptance for Energy Development and the Role of Trust, Positive Energy Project (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2016).
  5. National Energy Board Act, RSC 1985, c N-7.
  6. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, SC 2012, c 19.
  7. Energy Undertakings: Exempt Undertakings, O Reg 305/10.
  8. Planning Act, RSO 1990, c P.13.

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