Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future

September 01, 2017 - October 2017

The Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future were an attempt to approach the energy conversation differently. 

These events were intended to produce high-quality citizen input into how Canada can balance energy issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, jobs and international competitiveness. Convened by the SFU Centre for Dialogue, the regional dialogues helped inform pathways on Canada’s energy future.

Energy is profoundly important in our lives and to the economy. The conversation around energy in Canada has been difficult because we all relate to energy differently. That was why we brought together 150 Canadians from across the country for a deep conversation. These citizen voices have helped, and will continue to help shape the country’s energy future and heard by decision-makers and other key stakeholders.

"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."

Canada's Energy Challenge

The Importance of Energy

Energy is profoundly important in the lives of Canadians. It heats our homes through the winter, fuels our transportation and powers our electronic devices. The energy sector also creates jobs and helps to generate revenues for businesses and governments in Canada. The way we source, produce and use energy also has an impact on the environment, including releasing greenhouse gases that affect our climate.

In a vast country like Canada, the context of energy is unique within each province, territory, urban area, rural town or Indigenous community. These regional differences can make conversations about energy especially difficult.

Conversations are often polarized

There are polarized opinions around energy in Canada, in part due to divergent priorities and regional interests. But also because people can find it difficult to empathize with others who have different values and perspectives in relation to energy. This is especially true when considering people from different backgrounds that may live in other parts of the country.

Canadians know a lot about energy1, but they often don’t look at the issue from different sides or perspectives—especially if those perspectives don’t align with their own values. 55% of Canadians do not regularly listen2 to those with whom they often disagree. Nearly half of people2 in Canada never or rarely change their position on important social issues.

Conversations in the public sphere are also polarizing citizen opinions on energy. Some actors have exacerbated tensions by highlighting differences between diverse regions and sectors without first working to understand various perspectives.

Declining Trust

Canadians are losing faith in various institutions2 and do not trust key1 voices on energy issues. Public trust in governments, the media and the private sector are on the decline2 in Canada. This mirrors a trend that is occurring in a number of countries around the world.

A recent Edelman Trust Barometer survey found that only 50% of Canadians rated the business sector as trustworthy, while the media and government were rated as trustworthy by only 45% and 43% of the population, respectively. Key stakeholders—including government officials, regulators and CEOs—were rated as extremely or very credible by only a quarter of the population.

Specific groups1 within Canadian society lend even less trust2 than average to key institutions and voices.

Trust in information is also becoming increasingly polarized. While Canadians generally trust specific members of the media, the spread of misinformation through various channels, such as social networks, is challenging Canadians’ faith in a variety of institutions. It is  also eroding the ability of individuals to take informed stances on important topics.

These trust issues have consequences for how public and private sector energy decisions and investments are made in Canada.

People need to have access to evidence-based information and meaningful opportunities to be heard. Over 80% of Canadians say that they would feel better about government decisions if they knew governments regularly sought input from citizens3. Canadians also strongly support consultations with representative groups of people3 rather than those strictly limited to who is affected by a decision.

Lack of Consensus on Energy

In Canada, there are sharp regional and political differences around energy with with respect to issues such as the economy, climate change and globalization.

A national survey yielded that 92% of Canadians are concerned about the economy4 and 69% of the population thinks that the oil and gas industry will be important into the future. While most Canadians accept the scientific reality that our climate is changing5 as a result of human activity and expect governments to lead on meeting our international commitments, support for this view varies in different regions.

Against a backdrop of global instability and recent geopolitical events, uncertainty around international agreements and trade have made it increasingly difficult to understand how we will produce, use, export and import energy into the future.

Citizen Dialogues

Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue was selected by Natural Resources Canada to independently design and implement five regional citizen dialogues as part of the Generation Energy public consultation. See the April 27 project proposal to Natural Resources Canada. During September and October 2017, these dialogues engaged 150 Canadians in a deep conversation on energy. Coming from different hometowns, perspectives and backgrounds, these randomly selected participants sat down at the same table to learn about each other’s lives, ideas and aspirations.

The regional citizen dialogues reflected Canada’s diversity and promote dialogue around difficult conversations on energy. These events were intended to produce high-quality citizen input into how Canada can balance energy issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, jobs and international competitiveness. Together, participants sought a shared path forward in shaping Canada’s energy future, informed by the best evidence-based information available and the spirit of curiosity.

Recruitment and Preparation

Participants were selected using randomized recruitment methods that reached beyond “the usual suspects” to identify individuals who reflect the geographic, attitudinal and demographic diversity of all Canadians. Forum Research conducted a national opinion poll to provide a baseline on the diversity of opinions on energy issues for this project and managed initial citizen recruitment.

Prior to attending their regional citizen dialogue, participants received an informative and easy-to-understand discussion guide for their review, which provides an evidence-based resource. The discussion guide included context about energy issues in Canada and pose questions for participants to consider.

Importantly, the discussion guide outlined different approaches to shaping Canada’s energy future. These approaches reflected both expert solutions and a range of common positions identified in consultation with a diverse cross-section of stakeholder groups. These approaches were presented without censorship so that Canadians can consider them in relation to their own perspectives and compare the trade-offs associated with each approach.

The discussion guide had been reviewed by stakeholders from different sectors including in academia, civil society, and industry. It was accompanied by an explainer video that provided the information from the discussion guide in an additional accessible format.

Regional Dialogues

The five regional citizen dialogues were sequenced to take place between September 8 and September 27, 2017. Each two-day dialogue included between 30 and 40 participants who together reflected the diversity of their region.

The Institut du Nouveau Monde, a Québec-based non-partisan organization whose mission is to increase citizen participation in democratic life, was a project partner and convened the French regional dialogue in Montreal.

The regions and workshop locations were:

  • British Columbia and Yukon: Vancouver, September 10-11
  • Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwest Territories: Calgary, September 15-16
  • Québec: Montreal, September 17-18
  • Ontario and Nunavut: Toronto, September 22-23
  • New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador: Halifax, September 24-25

Each Regional Citizen Dialogue included both plenary and small-group discussion formats where participants discussed evidence-based information about the issues, heard each other’s stories and built understanding for each other’s needs.

Together, participants reviewed a range of known approaches and trade-offs in deciding Canada’s energy future. Each regional citizen dialogue ended with participants generating recommendations for Canada’s energy future.

Winnipeg Forum

A subset of participants from each regional citizen dialogue attended Natural Resources Canada’s Generation Energy pan-Canadian forum, which took place from October 11-13, 2017 in Winnipeg. These participants had the opportunity to join stakeholder discussions and share recommendations for Canada’s energy future based on the deliberative citizen dialogues.

Reports and Resources


Technical Report

The Technical Report is a detailed overview of the Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future process, providing a synthesis and evaluation of the process and outcomes.

Citizens Recommendations

This report contains the results from the Citizen Dialogues on Canada's Energy Future. The project marks the first ever cross-Canada deliberative dialogue where randomly selected citizens have advised the Government of Canada on energy policy. It was funded by Natural Resources Canada as part of the Generation Energy initiative. 

Final Video

Citizen Dialogues on Canada's Energy Future: Final Recommendations.

Discussion Material

Discussion Guide

This discussion guide was independently prepared by Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue and funded under a contribution agreement from Natural Resources Canada. This guide is supported by background research and framing questions provided by staff at the SFU Centre for Dialogue.

Explainer Video - English

This explainer video ccompanies the discussion guide and provides high-level information in audio and video formats. 

Explainer Video - French

Quel est l'avenir énergétique du Canada? Cette courte vidéo explicative décrit le contexte énergétique du Canada et offre différentes approches pour l'avenir.

Interim Results

Regional Summary Report (Download report)

Regional Dialogues video (YouTube, bilingual)

Regional Dialogue Reports

SFU President Andrew Petter delivers keynote address at Generation Energy forum (YouTube)

Polling Results

We commissioned Forum Research to undertake national opinion polling to set the baseline parameters for participant selection.

Background Documents

Partner Organization

Select Media & Commentary

People power: Canadians willing to shell out for clean energy, The Hill Times (January 24, 2018)

Informed citizens are key to Canada’s energy future, The Globe and Mail (August 28, 2017)

Let's Start a Conversation

Purpose of Inquiry

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