While a large majority of Albertans rate the oil and gas industry highly when it comes to creating jobs, nearly one third think they could do a better job communicating with the public, according to a poll done for CBC News.
"Albertans appreciate the crucial and positive role the energy sector plays in Alberta in terms of economic growth, which makes their lower ratings of the job that industry and government are doing in communicating with the general public even more pointed," says pollster Bruce Cameron of Return on Insight (ROI).
The CBC poll, done by ROI, found 66 per cent of those surveyed think government and industry is doing an adequate, good or very good job communicating with the general public.
And those "lower marks" industry received for public communication are still pretty good, said Janet Annesley, of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, pointing to the majority of Albertans that have a positive view of how the industry communicates to the public.
"To have two thirds of Albertans essentially say that the industry is doing an either adequate, good or very good job communicating with them is actually pretty robust poll results, in my view."
The results are especially pleasing as the industry has to deal with serious, and often controversial, issues like hydraulic fracturing, flaring and tailings ponds, said Annesley.
Most Albertans agree that the government (56 per cent good ratings) and the industry (70 per cent good ratings) are doing well creating economic wealth.
ROI’s poll shows public concerns about jobs and economic growth — specifically in the oil and gas industry — have doubled in Alberta in the last four years.
Forty-one per cent of Albertans give the oil and gas industry favourable marks for responding to critics of pipelines.
Only a third of those surveyed view the government positively when it comes to responding to critics of pipelines.
Almost an equal number of Albertans believe the government (32 per cent) and the industry (31 per cent) are doing a poor job or very poor job of communicating with the public about the oil and gas industry.
Public relations professional Doug Lacombe says the oil and gas industry has improved its communications efforts in recent years.
Still, the president of Communicatto said messaging from critics of the oil and gas industry remains potent.
"What we have got is people that are effective picking up the social media blow horn and attaching very precise issues to the industry that may or may not be theirs to own – and running with that to create dissent," Lacombe said Tuesday on CBC Radio’s Calgary Eyeopener.
Progressive Conservative party supporters are more positive about the government’s efforts to communicate about the sector. Wildrose Party supporters rate the industry higher than the government, especially in terms of dealing with pipeline critics. Liberal supporters have a mixed view of both industry and government.
NDP supporters, on the other hand, are almost universally critical of the industry and the government’s handling of energy issues.
ROI pollster Bruce Cameron says that oil and gas has the potential to become a wedge issue in the coming provincial election.
"How the government deals with the challenges facing the energy sector, especially in the court of public opinion could become a key battleground in the upcoming election, as the effectiveness of public outreach campaigns on behalf of the industry comes under increasing scrutiny," he said.
ROI’s poll for CBC News surveyed 803 adult Albertans from Jan. 25-31.
It is considered accurate +/-3.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.