Calgary at a Crossroads

When it comes to taking care of the planet and taking care of our family, do we really have to pick one over the other? 

A new EKOS-CBC poll suggests Canadians are torn between the priorities of economic growth and those of environmental stewardship, particularly when it comes to the oil and gas industry.

"One of the most striking features that we see throughout the poll is the collision of two extremely powerful forces in public opinion that are operating differently than in the past," said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research.

On the one hand lies an "unprecedented gloom about the economy," and on the other, a growing sense of urgency surrounding climate action, he said.

Not a conflict, says environment minister

Shannon Phillips, Alberta's environment minister, said one doesn't have to come at the expense of the other.

"From our perspective, it doesn't have to be either-or. Albertans appreciate that we can be environmental leaders and at the same time ensure economic growth."

To that end, Phillips said the government is focused on "immediate job creators," which include investments in energy efficiency at the small business level, for municipalities and for individual homeowners.

She also said there are "millions of dollars of global investment just waiting to invest in Alberta in green technology, clean tech, renewables, and finding ways to reduce our per-barrel emissions." 

"We have a lot of work to do to repair Alberta's environmental reputation, and I think what Alberta's proven is we're up to that challenge," she said. 


Shannon Phillips, Alberta's environment minister, says the province will reveal more details about its carbon pricing strategy when it announces its budget. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Either a beacon or a cautionary tale

Trevor McLeod, director for the Centre for Natural Resources Policy with the Canada West Foundation, said it's obvious most Canadians want to move to a low-carbon future.

The ambiguity, however, lies in the how and the how fast, he said. 

"It is disturbing, the dialogue that's started about the off-carbon future. People on one side have almost taken it on faith that if you cut the legs out of the existing energy systems, that we will arrive at this future," he said.

McLeod worries that energy sector leaders have backed away from the discussion because the public is uninterested in what they have to contribute on the environmental front. 

"We don't believe that that's what you're about. You're about profit. We're not really listening anymore," he offered as an example. 

McLeod said it's critical that those energy leaders help steer Alberta toward a low-carbon future.

"We have this opportunity to either be a beacon to the world, or a cautionary tale. It's really unclear yet which one we're going to be."

With files from CBC News Calgary, The Homestretch, and Alberta at Noon

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.