Author: Michael Cleland (Senior Fellow, University of Ottawa), with Laura Nourallah & Stewart Fast
– For the Canada West Foundation’s Centre for Natural Resources Policy and the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy project
This interim report provides a framework to understand local communities’ trust in public authorities.
Phase 1 of the project reflects a review of the academic literature and a set of interviews with senior leaders. Phase 2 – to come – involves a set of case studies of individual projects and communities which will be based on both qualitative and quantitative research at the local level.
The foundational concept for the report concerns questions of fairness, both substantive and procedural, and how perceptions of fairness influence trust and confidence.
In turn, an understanding of what may be perceived as fair rests on four notions which together provide us with a tentative model that is both explanatory and operationally useful. These notions are:
> Context – The facts surrounding both the project and the affected communities are at the root of any understanding or solution.
> Values, interests and attitudes within a given community establish the potential for negotiation and compromise.
> Information and capacity are necessary, if not sufficient conditions, for success.
> Engagement and participation are an essential condition for success.
Understanding the Decision-making System
The senior leaders interviewed represented regulators, policy- makers, industry, ENGOs, and Indigenous perspectives. These individuals provided a diverse set of comments, but there was considerable consensus on basic points:
01 The decision-making system is far from “broken.” Decisions are regularly made, many communities are satisfied and the public interest is often well-served. But the system comes up short with respect to all four notions cited above.
02 The problems most often start with unresolved policy issues and inadequate planning, both in substance and procedure. These issues, which often extend well beyond the regulatory framework and are outside of the mandate of regulators, include climate change, Indigenous communities’ concerns beyond energy (e.g., reconciliation), regional planning and cumulative effects. Reforming the regulatory system is a necessary condition for success but, by itself, far from a sufficient one.
03 There is a lack of adequate forums for community engagement and a lack of adequate and accessible information, all well upstream of individual project applications and regulatory decisions, often involving regional level, multi-project and long-term considerations.
04 The policy/planning/regulatory system is not well-understood. In many jurisdictions, it is in need of substantial rebuilding to restore the different institutional actors to their appropriate places and to restore trust and confidence.
05 Regulatory systems themselves have been substantially modernized and reformed but still fall short in terms of public trust and confidence. Solutions will involve both further reforms and a much higher level of basic understanding on the part of the public and decision- makers of what makes regulatory systems work.
06 If they are to become effective and constructive contributors to decision processes, communities will need to invest
in their own capacity to understand, engage and act in the public interest.
Policy-makers and regulators are well engaged in addressing the sorts of issues outlined in this report; many concrete solutions are at hand and being implemented. But much more can be done and what is done may prove much more effective and enduring if it is founded on solid understanding of communities themselves. The six case studies that make up the next phase of this project will contribute to the development of enduring solutions.