The Economic and Political Context of Public Deliberation on Climate Policy in Alberta

Geoff Salomons & John Parkins

This chapter contextualizes ABCD within its political and economic environment by contrasting the response of upper levels of government with those at the municipal level. Parkins and Salomons argue that an understanding of history and context is key to successfully designing and facilitating effective and meaningful public deliberation. The chapter argues that municipal government may be relatively more willing to undertake deliberative citizen involvement in a place like Alberta despite resistance from their provincial counterparts.  

Chapter Takeaways:

  • The petro-state offers a politics, social and economic context that situates the work on ABCD in Alberta, and Canada more broadly. Defined as a jurisdiction with more than 30% of revenue coming from oil revenue, our emphasis in this chapter is the privileged place that the oil and gas industry has within the Alberta political economic context that is distinct from other jurisdictions. Privileging of the energy sector creates serious barriers to government and non-government organizations seeking to develop progressive climate policy in Alberta.
  • Although petro-state politics create significant systemic and political barriers to action on climate change and environmental protection, these challenges are not insurmountable. Progressive policy development on climate change is evident at the municipal level, and the ABCD project found particularly fruitful opportunities for public engagement at the municipal scale of government. 
  • Over the past few decades, researchers have noted a shift in public engagement on environmental issues in Alberta. This shift involves a movement away from high-profile and province-wide public consultations to local and regional-scale processes of engagement. Although regional-scale consultations can offer a venue for addressing local values and interests, these local processes are more vulnerable to capture by local political and economic elites, particularly when publics in these regions are directly dependent on the resource industry.
  • Conditions for successful public deliberation include having partners willing to commit time, resources, and effort, a specific policy window with pre-defined connection to the policy making process, and a focused effort to maximize citizen input on the policies in question. These prior conditions allow deliberations to tailored to the topic at hand and organize input in ways that can cut through the broader, systemic barriers that might be in place. The resulting deliberation is likely to be less open-ended but allows the process to provide policy-makers with input that is focused, and suited to the specific issues on the table in the policy making process.

Related Resources:

  • Alberta Government plan for addressing climate change -  comprehensive information on Alberta’s plan to take action on climate change and protect the province’s health, environment and economy.
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - the dominant international organization that provides coordination for climate change mitigation and adaptation. As a signatory to this convention, the Government of Alberta (and the respective provinces of Canada) are required to meet their international commitments through this Convention.
  • ICLEI Canada - focused on local government for sustainability and provides inspiration, capacity support and coordination for a municipal-level response to climate change.

Advanced Resources: places like Alberta where public engagement is often little more than public relations, the learning curve for implementing high quality public deliberation is steep. Demonstrating public deliberation and learning from these experiences with our partners offers an important step toward breaking the old molds of public consultation in Alberta and offering fresh alternatives.
— Geoff Salomons & John Parkins