System Under Stress: Energy Decision-Making in Canada and the Need for Informed Reform

Introduction: Canada’s Energy Future

Many factors will determine Canada’s energy future over the next few decades. Carbon pricing and climate commitments; the constantly shifting state of international energy markets; potentially radical technological advances from electric power to vehicles to hydrocarbon production; and the restructuring of the electricity system all stand out. Close to the top of the list is yet another issue – one that is intertwined with all the others – the question of public confidence in the energy decision system.

The public confidence issue is hardly new but it has evolved substantially over the course of several decades, notably from the dismissive and pejorative “NIMBY” to the approving but oddly anti-democratic (or at least anti-representative democracy) “social license”. The term public confidence is used here deliberately to avoid the unhelpful notions implied by both of the earlier terms. Just as importantly the focus has shifted from the notion that the primary responsibility to respond to public concerns rests with project proponents to the idea that much more of the responsibility rests with public authorities.

In 2015, the University of Ottawa initiated the project “Positive Energy” (PE) with a mandate to strengthen public confidence in Canadian energy policy, regulation and decision-making through evidence-based research and analysis, engagement and recommendations for action. What follows below is an overview of key Positive Energy activities and research findings over the last three years. It draws on a vast stable of research papers, studies and engagement processes, as referenced throughout the text, and sets the stage for a series of articles on public confidence in energy decision-making that Energy Regulation Quarterly will publish in coming issues. This first article is a necessarily high-level summary. Readers wishing further detail are invited to consult the source documents and to stay tuned for forthcoming articles that will delve more deeply into many of the issues discussed below.

Positive Energy’s approach is marked by several attributes. It is solution-focused, empirically based, pragmatic and applied. The work has been undertaken by leading researchers (including both established scholars and researchers and a growing list of post-graduate, graduate and undergraduate students1) in Canada and the United States working in close collaboration with energy practitioners – leaders from energy corporations, non-government organizations (from ENGOs to trade associations to think tanks), Indigenous organizations, municipalities and both government policy and regulatory agencies.

PE’s guiding philosophy has been that the simplistic thinking and polarization behind terms such as NIMBY and social license can be overcome by a commitment to evidence and collaboration across all interests. The work is marked by extensive engagement of outside critics and reviewers from all sectors complemented by practically oriented workshops and outreach efforts aimed at deepening collective understanding of the source and nature of public confidence challenges, and, most importantly, how to address them and ultimately contributing to efforts to find a broad-based consensus on desirable reforms to Canada’s energy decision-making systems. This is a tall order to be sure. Identifying solutions that can be practically applied in the real world of politics, administrative realities, investor concerns, and the often overlooked perceptions of communities and citizens is something else again.

With that in mind the project proceeded from the ground up, aiming initially at advancing understanding of Canadian communities’ responses to energy project proposals of various sorts. This work, undertaken in partnership with the Canada West Foundation and organized as a series of case studies, is both qualitative and – where population numbers permitted statistically valid survey work – quantitative. Based on the insights flowing from that work combined with a deep familiarity with the literature in this area (much of which is focused on proponent practices rather than those of policy and regulatory authorities) a number of streams of thought have emerged. These are guided by several overarching themes or principles, all leading toward a growing body of practical ideas.

Among the principal themes, several stand out. The most important, to restate, is that the role of public authorities in securing both public confidence and investor confidence has been given too little attention and yet will be the linchpin of future success or failure in energy development in Canada, including development of renewable energy. Second, this is not just about regulators but rather the whole energy decision system from policy through planning to regulation; it is a system and tinkering with one part while ignoring others may simply reinforce the problems. Third, the community case studies revealed that the system is not “broken” but in need of reform, albeit sometimes extensive reform. There are many examples throughout Canada of agencies and approaches whose shortcomings need urgent attention, but effective and successful approaches are largely hidden from public view because they do not occasion controversy. Finally, to be successful, reform must be undertaken with an adequate base of understanding, recognition of the needs of diverse actors, of limits as well as possibilities and the realities of the physical and market energy systems. Positive Energy refers to this as “informed reform”.

The World Around the Energy Decision System

The public confidence issue centres on the energy decision system or at least those parts of it under the responsibility of (mainly federal, provincial and territorial) public authorities. Much of recent debates has centered on regulators, notably the National Energy Board, while paying little attention to what might be termed the upstream system, the parts whose decisions precede projects and their proponents. These are policy writ large and planning, which is an element of policy but distinct in its focus and its mechanisms, underdeveloped in Canada, and in all likelihood one of the most important and challenging parts of the puzzle.

This system and its parts are situated in a much larger political, economic and social culture most of which is well beyond the reach of any effort at energy decision system reform but of critical importance if the objective is for reform to be informed. This culture might best be understood through an extended zoological metaphor of horses (social and value change), elephants (policy gaps affecting public confidence in regulators and energy development) and sitting ducks (energy decision processes, notably regulators)2.

Start with the horses that have left the barn. The public confidence challenge reflects widespread social and value changes that have taken place in the post Second World War period that are affecting all realms of the economy and society. They are part of energy decision-makers’ reality and outside of anyone’s control. The decline of deference to authority is a decades old phenomenon that makes individual citizens and communities far less willing to be told what to do. This phenomenon has been accompanied by a corresponding decline in trust in authorities and experts of all sorts. Social fragmentation is perhaps a newer phenomenon, certainly one that has ballooned in importance in a world of populism and “localism” (at various scales from nationalism to the level of individual neighbourhoods) and which makes notions of large scale public interest ever more difficult to sustain. Correspondingly, citizens and communities have taken to insisting that they be part of public decisions that affect them. At the same time, there has been a marked decline in individual tolerance for risk, perhaps reflecting shifting values (for example traditional community cultures versus modern economic development) but combined with a growing tendency for people to perceive risks in ways that differ – sometimes substantially – from the views of experts. All of this is overlain by the new world of social media with its capacity both to empower the disenfranchised and provide access to information, but also to misinform and to exaggerate risks.

Much of this is obvious but it is not always well understood. One thing for certain: these horses have left the barn. There is no turning back the clock on social and value change.

Meanwhile, touching more specifically on energy, there are several elephants in the room: large scale policy challenges where policy makers have come up short. The first and most obvious is climate change and carbon. The vast gulf between aspirations and government pronouncements on carbon management and the application of practical policy and follow-through leaves energy project decisions subject to opposition on policy – rather than project – grounds, citizens confused and ever more distrustful and investors ever more wary. An equally large issue and perhaps even further short of resolution is reconciliation with Indigenous citizens, where history casts a long shadow of mistrust, broken promises and systemic discrimination and abuse. Canada’s energy relations with its Indigenous citizens are about far more than individual energy projects, but projects and their associated decision processes get caught in the middle of these much broader debates and issues. Indigenous communities’ desires for social and economic advancement combine with a wish to take charge of or at least shape decisions that affect them, all in a legal context which is at one and the same time empowering and ambiguous in its implications. Finally, more diffuse but no less important is the complex question of how best to manage the combined effects of all sorts of diverse projects in any given region or community. This issue is one that emerges from several of the case studies examined in the communities research noted above and detailed below, and, no less than policy gaps on climate and Indigenous reconciliation, something which individual project proponents and regulatory approval processes cannot by themselves resolve.

In the context of horses that have left the barn and elephants in the room, energy decision-making processes, and energy regulators in particular, are sitting ducks, the target of substantial opposition, critique and polarization. On this not much more needs to be said, but much needs to be done as laid out below.

To conclude this brief discussion of the world that surrounds energy decision-making it is worth touching briefly on a related matter that is constantly passed over in much of the public discussion. This is the inconvenient truth that complex societies embody myriad contradictions and tensions. These tensions, all part of modern life in democratic societies in particular clearly affect all manner of decisions including those pertaining to energy and energy projects.

It is a cliché to characterize energy as a long game but so it is and yet decisions with long term implications are a growing challenge in a world increasingly dominated by pressures for short term thinking and the demands of electoral politics. The problems of coping with great complexity are not easily reconciled with a twitter world where simple is the touchstone and claims of complexity are taken to suggest elite obfuscation. Another inherent tension is the fact that large scale societal interests are as often as not contradictory to the interests and values of local communities. We live in a world in which democratic accountability has taken on the character of an absolute value and yet that value must be reconciled with the need for objective, evidence-based decision-making. Correspondingly, the institutions that we rely on for carrying out such decision-making rely fundamentally on procedural integrity to offset the lack of direct democratic accountability but for many citizens and communities, procedure sounds and often feels like a way of silencing citizen voices. And, finally, while many of the potential avenues for reform point to the need for planning: long term in orientation, complex, and evidence based, planning is hard to reconcile with the real-time decisions of market actors, project regulators and politicians.

All the above risks sounding like counsel of despair. And yet life has to go on, decisions have to get made one way or the other and if reform efforts fail to address themselves to these tensions they risk foundering on the shoals of practical reality. Informed reform has to come to grips with all of them. The evidence from the six case studies points to many possible ways of doing just that.

Six Case Studies on the Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making

The case study project, undertaken in partnership with the Canada West Foundation, was carried out between spring 2015 and November 2016. Following a preliminary literature review3 and two dozen interviews with energy leaders across the country4, the study turned its focus to seven projects in seven communities (one of the case studies was a comparative look at two similar projects in Ontario). The choice of communities was determined by a desire to have broad and diverse coverage – across Canada; involving Indigenous, non-Indigenous, urban and rural communities; dealing with projects that were both successfully sited and not; and covering linear, non-linear and fossil and non-fossil (hydro, wind) energy. The table below provides a brief summary of the six case studies.

Six Case Studies on the Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making Summary

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 by regulator but overturned by Supreme Court and federal government 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


The approach taken for each case study was as follows:

  • Initial reconnaissance including an extensive review of the public record;
  • Interviews with between 6 and 20 informants carried out between March and June 2016;
  • Quantitative surveys carried out between July and September 2016 in the five communities of sufficient size to permit a statistically valid sample (Kitimat/Haisla Nation, Eckville/Rimbey, Oakville, King Township, Kent County/Elispogtog First Nation), and;
  • A synthesis and analysis of the results reflected in a report entitled A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making published in November 20165. Detailed reports for each case study were also prepared6.

The brief summary of this study that follows below unavoidably misses many of the nuances to be found both in the final report and even more so in the case studies themselves, but several high-level observations stand out.

More often than not, policy failures played an important role. Policy failures of various sorts lay behind both projects that were successfully sited and those that were not. In the earlier section, we cited three big policy challenges – climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous citizens, and effective regional planning and cumulative effects management. Strikingly, in none of the cases was climate change a dominant factor one way or the other. Far more important were local environmental and health impacts (whether real or possibly only perceived and only in some cases instances of what might actually be termed policy “failure”). Three of the cases concerned historical experience with treaties and land claims and much of that probably can be fairly termed policy failure.

More important still were what might be termed process failures: the inability to translate government intent through a coherent, stable process of engagement with affected communities and from there through a regulatory process that was perceived as legitimate, stable and comprehensible. These failures had different sorts of effects. Some were overcome by creative adaptation (Nisichawayasihk First Nation) or by dogged persistence (Eckville/Rimbey, King Township). One left a formally approved project (Kitimat/Haisla Nation) lacking in underlying political and, as it turned out, legal legitimacy. Three led to projects not being approved (Oakville, St-Valentin, Kent County/Elsipogtog First Nation).

Context matters. This obviously includes the internal context of the affected communities – sometimes based on traditional economies dependent on local renewable resources, in other instances urban communities objecting to intrusions that were perceived to have important potential health impacts. External context was equally important although not – as sometimes charged – connected to externally derived celebrity communications on climate change but more often due to the community in question being unconvinced that the project was justified in the larger scheme of things. The legacy of past events may have had a direct impact on the community (seen most notably with Indigenous communities) or were seen as implying risks (for example, of pipeline spills) that the community was not prepared to tolerate. What seems important here for policy makers, regulators (and project proponents) is that all the various dimensions of context need to be carefully considered and addressed early on in the process and as often as not well before a project arrives at the formal project decision-making stage.

No community is monolithic. Based on the quantitative surveys, a notable divergence of opinion emerged across the cases (this was in mid-2016, what a survey undertaken at the time of each of the project controversies might have revealed is another matter). In only two of the five surveyed communities did a majority express opposition to the project and in only one (Kent County/Elsipogtog First Nation) was that opposition overwhelming (70 per cent). But even where the 2016 results showed majority support, the projects ultimately did not go ahead (Northern Gateway) or produced significant and politically costly controversy (Eckville/Rimbey, King Township). Interestingly there was somewhat less divergence in response to the question “do you trust public authorities making decisions about energy projects?” In four of the surveyed communities levels of distrust were in the range of 60 and 70 per cent. Somewhat surprisingly, given the ultimate outcome, Kitimat/Haisla Nation showed the lowest level of distrust of public authorities at around 50 per cent. How exactly to unearth and understand the attitudes of the “community” and so better manage the process will be an enduring challenge.

Interests, while important, appeared to play a secondary role relative to values. Throughout the case studies, negotiable factors such as jobs, community investment and resource revenues played at most secondary roles. In comparison, deeply held values, both substantive (such as attachment to the natural environment or to traditional lifestyles) and procedural (being treated openly and fairly) were prominent and powerful sources of controversy. It seems clear that economic interests alone will not shake people from these values and attempts to do so are more than likely to prove counterproductive.

Information matters but energy literacy is not necessarily the issue. For the most part, the case study communities acted to inform themselves and approached the issues with at least some measure of objectivity, but the timing, channels, sources and the nature and quality of information affected community confidence in the decision-making process. Most notably, when the process was accompanied by institutional instability (Eckville/Rimbey) or seeming incoherence between political and regulatory responsibilities (Oakville, King Township); was characterized by official reluctance to share information (Oakville, King Township); or revealed that public authorities were simply unprepared to deal with the issues (Kent County/Elsipogtog First Nation), the result, somewhat predictably, was high levels of distrust.

Engagement has to be real and early in the process. Across the six cases engagement took many forms but came up short in several respects. The most familiar case was in Kitimat/Haisla Nation where, in the view of the Supreme Court of Canada, the engagement process with First Nations fell short. Where a project was seen to be a result of some externally derived need (Eckville/Rimbey, Oakville, King Township, St-Valentin, Kent County/Elsipogtog First Nation) of which the local community was unconvinced, the result was controversy, delay and often failure. Pace is important. When it appeared to the community that a project was being rushed to meet some political or other governmental need (Eckville/Rimbey, Oakville, King Township, St-Valentin, Kent County/Elsipogtog First Nation) controversy seemed sure to follow. The Wuskwatim project (Nisichawayasihk First Nation) stands in contrast to most of the others. Here the community and the proponent (a Crown corporation) engaged early and significantly redesigned the project both to reduce its environmental impacts and to improve the flow of benefits to the community.

Planning matters and it most often needs to be done in a regional context. Many of the issues described above can, in principle, be better addressed through regional planning processes (which would normally precede an actual project) than through formal regulatory processes at the individual project level. Needless to say, planning brings its own challenges, but when a community first encounters the possibility of a project through formal regulatory mechanisms that project and the regulatory process may well be on the road to great controversy and possible failure.

To sum up, the case studies offer a wealth of potential insight into the way communities respond to energy projects, many of which provide potentially useful guidance to processes aimed at reform of decision systems. These underlie the next section of this article. Perhaps most important of these for governments contemplating a quick transition to a very low carbon economy, it needs repeating that in none of the cases was climate or carbon a dominant consideration for the community. Public confidence in the decision system is founded on many factors and a decision process that fails to account for these (with the inevitable slowing of the process and ultimate increases in costs) faces an uphill battle.

System under Stress: The need for informed reform7

As earlier noted our focus here is on public authorities – the public energy decision system as a whole. The need to address the whole public decision system is critical. The case studies clearly revealed that problems arise not only due to lapses on the part of project proponents or formal regulatory agencies but at least as much due to lapses upstream in the realms of policy and planning. This points to the need to better map the system and its component parts.

Broadly speaking, the “system” consists of two sets of institutional actors and three principal steps in decision-making processes.

The first set of actors is policy makers – government authorities made up of legislative bodies, elected executive bodies (cabinets) and appointed officials under the day to day authority of the executive. This element is marked by direct democratic accountability as well as almost inevitable but less positive attributes such as a fixation on the short term driven by electoral politics, a high degree of secrecy and risk-aversion and a tendency to what often appears from the outside as incoherence and inconsistency.

In this world, clear stable policy – what may be the sine qua non of effective reform – is challenging to say the least. More challenging still and possibly even more important for public confidence in future project siting is planning, a distinct aspect of policy through its extension into physical spaces which may take the form of individual communities or, more often, regions and the corridors that accommodate linear infrastructure such as pipelines and power lines. Planning inherently involves much more direct engagement of affected communities than any normal policy process.

Project siting controversies most often centre on the second set of institutional actors – independent regulators and their formal processes. This is not to downplay the role of policymakers but simply to underscore the point that regulatory processes – which typically start only when a proposed project appears – are often the most visible part of the process from the perspective of communities and, thereby, inevitably the most likely target for controversy. How these sorts of agencies work with other government authorities and processes as well as with local communities are questions which beg urgent and thoughtful attention.

Although the focus of this article is on public decision processes it is vital to remember that these operate within not only the sociological and cultural realities sketched in the previous section but also the physical and market systems which make up the actual business of energy delivery. Physical systems and their technologies impose numerous constraints, whether it is the physical location of relevant resources (e.g., hydrocarbons, hydrologic regimes, wind regimes); the unavoidable need to link resources to sometimes distant markets; the fact that most energy infrastructure has lives measured in decades; or the numerous requirements for maintaining safety, reliability and real-time functioning where supply-demand balance is essential. The physical reality is not only a source of challenges, however. Emerging technologies and business models can also create opportunities to make the system much less environmentally intrusive or to open avenues for locally-based facilities. These may be more efficient and less environmentally intrusive and may create potential to place much more control in the hands of both communities and customers.

How all of this evolves in the future and the speed with which it is able to evolve pose great uncertainty with which all actors will need to learn to cope. This uncertainty will necessarily colour decision processes no matter how well they are designed. Much of what actually takes place will be determined not by public policy or the wishes of communities but by technological change well outside of Canada’s control and by markets and the decisions of investors. This will be true especially if more of the energy production and delivery business is placed in private hands or if its day to day functioning is determined less by government regulation of monopolies and more by freely functioning markets.

As obvious as the above may appear, it is less obvious that either public decision makers or communities fully grasp the extent to which outcomes are not in their hands and that trust and confidence in the regulatory system is as important to investors and energy business leaders as it is to communities. The design of effective public decision systems is unavoidably shaped by these realities

Out of all of this, Positive Energy’s analysis leads to the conclusion that there are three distinctive points of stress on the system:

The policy/regulatory nexus: the two energy solitudes?

The relationship between policymakers and regulators may be the most fundamental conundrum facing those who design decision-making systems: the need to ensure appropriate democratic accountability when decisions go to the heart of large scale and entirely legitimate political choices set against the need for more technical matters to be dealt with based on objective evidence and procedure that is open, fair, and stable. As to who does what and when, political actors have a natural tendency to wish to keep their options open, which tends to engender a distinct lack of clarity and stability. And yet it seems likely that any system in which citizens, communities and investors have confidence will need in future to be founded on clarity and stability in respect to which roles rest with which bodies.

The obverse side of the coin with respect to the policymaker-regulator relationship concerns the roles that regulators of various sorts should play with respect to upstream process of policy design and planning. Regulators stand in a unique place in the system. They often command important sources of information as well as having analytical resources to make sense of that information. They have a distinctive perspective based on being close to the ground and able to see and understand the regions and local communities in which projects get built in their many physical, economic and sociological dimensions. They also have long experience in the process of “hearing”, organizing enquiry and assembling and synthesizing views from multiple sources, both local and otherwise. These resources, all of which are essential to the formal project decision process, can also be deployed as direct aids to policy and planning processes. Done transparently and with clear bounds, there is no reason in principle why regulatory agencies could not have greater roles upstream without compromising their legitimacy in more formal stages of the process.

Who decides? The balance between local and higher-level decision authorities

The role of local authorities is a question that seems certain to grow and impose further conundrums on energy decision-making. This question is distinct from those that surround community consultation more broadly. The term “authorities” is of vital significance here. Local authorities have established legal authority of various sorts which may well grow in importance as more decentralized energy solutions evolve and unlike civil society they are subject to democratic accountability. This clearly pertains to municipal authorities but is most obvious with Indigenous authorities due to their unique legal position, something which is fast evolving in the direction of more local control. The challenge for the future is how the role of local authorities can grow as legitimate parts of the decision system, able to reflect and defend local needs but, in turn, how this can be balanced against the larger societal interest.

How to decide: engagement, information and capacity

Apart from the formal role of local authorities, there remain the many challenges entailed in informing and engaging local communities more broadly. This involves a long-standing set of questions and a source of much experience, both positive and negative from which much can be learned, a great deal of which is reflected in the case studies discussed above. A few points stand out.

One concerns the question of engaging early, building relationships and mutual understanding, something that almost always needs to precede the formal processes surrounding individual projects, although also continuing once more formal processes are launched. This point underscores the importance of there being much more attention to the possibilities of regional planning or mechanisms such as strategic environmental assessment and those mechanisms being able to build on clear expressions of government policy.

Processes of early engagement also have to be open to the possibility of the local community contributing to the design of decision-making mechanisms. These can extend from how local communities contribute to more strategic issues such as regional planning through to how to design consultation mechanisms and how to establish monitoring systems that allow communities a direct window into follow up once projects are built and in operation.

All of this has to be built on much improved information systems. Information sources need to be reliable, accessible, adequate and trusted. This is a challenge for many reasons including cost, whether the need for information impinges on questions of commercial or personal confidentiality, or because information is simply not available or may be subject to various sources of uncertainty. Regardless, the process of reform across Canada will rest on a foundation of much more sophisticated information systems or it will be set up for failure.

Finally, there is the challenge of capacity, one that affects both the broad engagement question and the role of local authorities. Time and other priorities, whether for individuals or local authorities, is the most important limitation. A related limitation is resources: to what extent is it practical for local communities to have analytical and engagement resources in their own hands? At some point it will come down to the practical fact that decisions may need to be vested in the hands of more fully informed and expert authorities. This brings us full circle back to the roles and responsibilities of policy makers and regulators and how their actions are reflective of a broad-based, long term vision of Canada’s energy future which is founded on a solid political consensus.

Conclusion – Future Directions

It seems clear that energy decision systems will face no less daunting challenges in future and possibly more. Hydrocarbon based systems will continue to be needed for many years to come but will work under a growing cloud of concerns about greenhouse gasses. Renewable systems and power lines, as desirable as they are in the eyes of those primarily concerned with climate change, will bring their own challenges set against a range of priority concerns in local communities much more diverse and complex than the sole desire to reduce carbon emissions. These challenges will be mitigated by innovations largely outside the control of either governments or local communities. New science, new technologies, new business models, and project proponents whose actions are much better tuned to the complexities of ensuring public confidence should for the most part make the job easier.

That said, the challenge of public confidence in public decision-making systems will remain. This challenge will centre on two core questions: How can local communities, whether informally or formally through local authorities, be constructive contributors to decision processes that need to maintain procedural integrity, cost-effectiveness and timeliness? Ultimately, how can confidence and trust be restored in the full system of decision-making mechanisms – from policy through planning to projects – to act fairly and in the interests of all members of society?

These questions stand the list of three stresses in the previous section somewhat on its head. The question: “how to decide” would begin the discussion from the perspective of local communities, which is probably the right place to begin. A considerable body of ideas for reform is fast evolving and this body of thinking will need further realistic reflection and dialogue among all implicated parties and, ideally, a great deal of experimentation from which lessons can be drawn. The question “who decides” addresses the roles of communities in their legally constituted functions as local authorities and is in many ways an even more challenging issue, especially given the growing role of Indigenous authorities and the constant challenge of reaching conclusions which best serve the public interest as a whole. This question too is subject to a growing body of thought which will also need more reflection, dialogue and experimentation. And finally the policy maker-regulator nexus and questions surrounding the appropriate configuration of responsibilities for policy, planning and formal regulation need to be addressed based in some measure on the answers which emerge to the first two.

Trust and public confidence will, in the end, need to be placed in final decision mechanisms which for the most part stand above any individual community. Trust and confidence will only flow from a broad based vision and sense of direction for Canada’s energy systems combined with some measure of societal consensus around all three of the above questions with the various measures and methods interacting in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. It is, as said above, a system and if reform is truly to be informed it must take a systems perspective.

Forthcoming articles in Energy Regulation Quarterly will delve more deeply into Positive Energy’s research on the issues raised here and will point more explicitly to avenues and recommendations for reform.

*Michael Cleland is a Senior Fellow with the Positive Energy Program at the University of Ottawa. Professor Monica Gattinger is Director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy, and Chair of the Institute’s Positive Energy project.

  1. These include the following senior practitioners, researchers and scholars: Loleen Berdahl (Professor, University of Saskatchewan), Stephen Bird (Professor, Clarkson University), Michael Cleland (Senior Fellow, uOttawa), Shawn Denstedt (Partner, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt), Stewart Fast (Senior Research Associate, uOttawa), Monica Gattinger (Chair, Positive Energy, uOttawa), Guy Holburn (Professor, University of Western Ontario), Lawrence Keyte (research associate, uOttawa), Dan McFadyen (Executive Fellow, University of Calgary), Trevor McLeod (Canada West Foundation), David Mullen (Emeritus Professor, Queen’s University), Nik Nanos (Chair and CEO, Nanos Research), Shafak Sajid (Canada West Foundation), Kim Scott (former energy and climate advisor to the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations), Louis Simard (Professor, uOttawa) and Adonis Yatchew (Professor, University of Toronto). The team also includes the following postgraduate, graduate and undergraduate students: Rafael Aguirre (doctoral candidate, uOttawa), Marisa Beck (postdoctoral researcher, uOttawa), Josh Giesbrecht (undergraduate student, uOttawa), Erik Koskela (undergraduate student, uOttawa), Kyae Lim Kwon (undergraduate student, uOttawa), Laura Nourallah (doctoral candidate, uOttawa), Acacia Paton Young (master’s student, uOttawa), Katherine Pietroniro (master’s student, uOttawa), Chris Robillard (master’s student, uOttawa), Melanie Vien-Walker (undergraduate student, uOttawa) and Caroline Woodward (undergraduate student, uOttawa).
  2. For a full description of the elephants, horses and sitting ducks metaphor, see Michael Cleland & Monica Gattinger, System Under Stress: Energy Decision-Making in Canada and the Need for Informed Reform, (Ottawa: University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2017) at 11-17.
  3. See Laura Nourallah, Communities in Perspective: Literature Review of the Dimensions of Social Acceptance for Energy Development and the Role of Trust, (Ottawa: University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016).
  4. See Michael Cleland, Laura Nourallah & Stewart Fast, Fair Enough: Assessing Community Confidence in Energy Authorities, (Calgary and Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016).
  5. See Michael Cleland et al, A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making, (Calgary and Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016).
  6. See Stephen Bird, A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making, Case Study: Gas-fired Power Facilities, Oakville and King Township, Ontario, (Calgary and Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016); Cleland, Fast & Nourallah, supra note 4; Shafak Sajid, A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making, Case Study: Northern Gateway Energy Pipeline, Kitimat and Haisla Nation, British Columbia, (Calgary and Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016); Shafak Sajid, A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making, Case Study: Western Alberta Transmission Line, Eckville and Rimbey, Alberta, (Calgary and Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016); Shafak Sajid, A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making, Case Study: Wuskwatim Hydroelectric project, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Manitoba, (Calgary and Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016); Louis Simard, A Matter of Trust: The Role of Communities in Energy Decision-Making, Case Study: Wind Farm, St-Valentin, Québec, (Calgary and Ottawa: Canada West Foundation and University of Ottawa (Positive Energy), 2016) .
  7. This section summarizes Cleland & Gattinger, supra note 2.

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