Convocation, Students, Political Science

Convocation Profile: Jennifer Cooper, Political Science

June 07, 2017

“I love politics.” So says new MA graduate Jennifer Cooper, who is interested in how power is acquired, used, and lost. Cooper’s MA thesis in Political Science examines the shift in energy policy from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau and governments in between. Using historical analysis, she examines the period since 1980, when the National Energy Program (NEP) was implemented.

Cooper (BA hons, Political Science) was first drawn to the topic as an undergraduate: in the middle of her studies she says she took a “long break from school” that saw her working full-time and taking additional courses as they interested her. During this period she took an introductory political science course “on a whim” and was hooked: “When I returned to my studies full-time, I wanted to absorb as much information as possible and learn how to use all this information I learned in my classes in a meaningful way. During my undergrad studies, I mostly was interested in security studies. When I was putting my application for the MA program together, a faculty member and I brainstormed research ideas, and he mentioned pipelines. A smile formed on my face, and I knew that energy policy and oil was what I wanted to research.”

A section of the Interprovincial Pipeline being laid near Regina, Saskatchewan, 1954.

Cooper’s research examines what she terms a “fragile shift” in Canadian energy policy: the movement away from an economic growth based policy, such as those advocated by succeeding federal governments following the failure of the NEP in 1985, to what she says is a more balanced economic environmental policy under the current Trudeau government. Her project explains how this energy policy shift under Justin Trudeau happened.

Cooper explains, “I start with the NEP because its response and failure resulted in subsequent decision makers prioritizing economic growth from the oil sector. Previous attempts to shift away from economic growth were complicated because of two reasons, federalism – the provinces have jurisdiction over natural resources, and Canada-U.S. relations – Canada is dependent on the U.S. market. The Justin Trudeau government shifted to an economic-environmental balanced policy because of several factors, two of which are the growing salience of climate change and political change in Alberta.” However, she argues, this shift is fragile: “The current U.S. government has no interest in carbon emission reductions, and the federal government needs the Albertan government as an ally to ensure this policy shift is successful.”

Pipelines and policy are two things that many members of the SFU community are deeply aware of: community-members have been involved in protests over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion through Burnaby Mountain, and President Andrew Petter released a letter objecting to the project, citing significant safety concerns. Cooper says her work aims to be part of a conversation that reaches across the partisan aisle: “I frame my work to be as objective as possible.  By that I mean I still acknowledge my own bias and preference, but I also acknowledge the strengths of the counterargument.”

Cooper presents her findings on Canadian energy policy through successive federal governments. Photo: submitted.

She says the most interesting part of her MA project was explaining how little power the federal government has: “The federal government has constraints in the Canadian political system, and my aim was to identify them in my project.” She says this exercise was important to her because “there are numerous publications that give recommendations on how the federal government can implement environmental policy that could reduce carbon emissions and where the federal government comes short. What most of them miss is why this type of policy is difficult for the federal government, and I try to explain that while looking at Canadian energy policy.”

Cooper, who grew up in Surrey, BC, credits the influence of those close to her in helping her along her educational path: “I blame my parents. Every time I think I’m going to fail or can’t do something, they ruin it. I don’t know when they became my cheerleaders, but they like to remind me that when I previously thought something was impossible I somehow push myself through it. My husband and in-laws are also extremely supportive.” They also helped her to become socially active at an early age: “My parents taught me the importance of being politically aware and active.  Parents’ of my friends and classmates ran for office, and I learned a lot about what campaigning was and how different parties go about doing it.”

Last year Cooper worked as a co-op student on the University’s Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy development on campus and says she found this experience extremely rewarding: “I could be a part of policy change, but I could also put a positive impact on the University community. I enjoy helping people. If work I do can have a small positive impact on someone – especially when they need help and support – the hard work is well worth it.”

As for what’s next after graduation, Cooper says she’s still trying to figure this out. “I’ve positioned myself where I have a lot of options but too many options can be hazardous. I would love to work in my field as a policy analyst to ensure the balance the Trudeau government found continues. I’m open to working in either the public or private sector. I’m not closed to the idea of a PhD, but it’s not in my short-term plans. I’m also working with my supervisor (Dr. Anil Hira) to get my project published.”