Public confidence: the challenge of our times

Here are some words to think about as we see quality projects that are of clear benefit stalled by protracted and increasingly unpredictable public processes. 

The following excerpts are drawn from a new paper by Professor Monica Gattinger of the University of Ottawa. 

Resource Works executive director Stewart Muir is in Winnipeg today to join the author and other experts who are gathering to understand more deeply the reasons behind widening concern about the nation's social and fiscal viability given these conditions. 

The Gattinger paper is entitled Public Confidence in Energy and Mining Development. Some excerpts:

  • "Not only could strengthening public confidence help to preserve and unlock the economic contribution of Canada’s substantial energy and mineral reserves, but there is also an exciting opportunity for the country to take a leadership position on this issue. Other western industrialized countries with large resource holdings face similar challenges (e.g., the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, etc.).
  • “With the right attitude and approach, Canada could become a leading innovator in the public confidence space. Getting resource governance right could also help the country transition to a lower carbon energy future.”
  • "The impact of these changes can be far-reaching: Citizens may be less likely to trust that governments make fair unbiased decisions and they can lack confidence in expert opinion and scientific evidence; ‘opening up’ decision-making processes can generate real and perceived tensions between participatory democracy (citizen involvement) and representative democracy (elected officials taking a decision); people may accord more weight to individual/local interests than to national/group interests and may prefer small-scale locally owned projects over large-scale corporate-backed endeavours, and perceptions of risk can trump realities of risk and risk mitigation.”
  • “The combined effect of these impacts can lead to public opinion taking precedence over evidence-based decision-making in natural-resource policy and regulation. This tendency can be amplified by the impact of technological change (notably social media for its power to influence and convene) and by the relative lack of public (and sometimes leaders’) understandings of the realities of natural-resource development in market, economic, environmental, technological and infrastructure terms.”
  • “While fossil fuel development is often the flashpoint for conflict over resource development, it would be wrong to think this is solely a challenge for hydrocarbons. Renewable energy and mining face these challenges as well.”
  • “Widespread opposition can generate costly delays, uncertainty, and unpredictability in the business environment."

As Resource Works continues to build its profile as a unique type of project, we are looking forward to taking part in more conversations like this one. There is too much at stake to sit idly by in 2016. As ever, your support makes all the difference to our success.


[Gattinger is director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy, and chair of the Institute’s Collaboratory on Energy Research and Policy. She has written widely on Canadian energy policy and regulation, and the country’s energy relations with the United States.]

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