National poll indicates Canadians have trust issues with oil and gas companies

CALGARY – A University of Calgary survey gauging the energy literacy of Canadians places the industry on the same level of public trustworthiness as used car salesmen and lawyers, says one of the report’s authours.

“The energy sector is losing the battle to the environmental groups and community groups that are perceived to be more trustworthy,” said Andre Turcotte, one of the authors of the survey done by The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

The online survey, done by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, asked 1,508 Canadians a wide range of questions about energy.

The respondents were asked to rank from one to ten how much they trusted the various sides in the energy industry on energy issues.

The survey found that academics were considered the most trustworthy, with a score of 6.13 out of 10. Environmental groups and activists were at 5.33, while federal and provincial governments scored in the 4.3 range.

Oil and gas companies rated at the bottom at 3.11.

“If you get a rating of 3.1, you’re way down there in terms of credibility — you’re like with used-car salesmen and lawyers and others that people don’t really trust,” said Turcotte, an associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.

“It’s also that people are tuning you out. No matter how much money you spend.”

About 77 per cent of those surveyed said they were very or somewhat concerned about the impact of energy generation on the environment.

But the economy, health care, employment, government spending, the environment, poverty, pensions and taxes were ranked as the most important issues facing Canada today. Oil and gas, energy prices and production were listed as key issues by only two per cent of respondents.

“Energy kind of lives in the background of people’s lives. People understand energy, they know about energy mainly on a personal basis but are largely unaware of the repercussions, the impact and general concern about what energy does,” said Turcotte.

“What was really surprising was that people just basically didn’t care, kept it in the background and were unaware,” added Michal Moore, an economist and professor of energy economics in Calgary.

“Canadians, as with many in North America, are under informed about energy issues and we have identified ways we can increase their overall understanding and consequently energy literacy.”

Another question on the survey dealt with whether the respondents knew where the electricity in their own province comes from.

“We asked Canadians ‘What is the main source of energy generation in your province?’ P.E.I., Saskatchewan and Alberta are the three provinces that are generally unaware of where energy comes from,” Turcotte said.

Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Quebec were more informed on the subject, he said.

The authors also noted that coal and nuclear energy industries were poorly regarded as sources of energy generation among respondents while natural gas, solar and hydro are viewed positively across the country.

The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population like traditional telephone polls.