New Positive Energy study seeks a path forward on energy-environmental federalism

Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Coal stained hands holding glowing lightbulb

The University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy program released a new research study exploring the past, present and future of energy and environmental conflict in Canada. The research, conducted by Positive Energy faculty affiliate and Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt, is now available on the Positive Energy website and identifies two principal options for a path forward.

First, identifying the few windows of opportunity when broad multilateral consensus between federal and provincial governments can be achieved. Second, focusing on achieving incremental cooperation through bilateral or unilateral provincial or federal-provincial initiatives. Together, these can lay the foundation for forward momentum and lasting change. 

Through an analysis of Canada’s constitution, politics, energy and environmental characteristics, and past intergovernmental conflicts and collaboration, Dr. Bratt’s research finds that decision-makers need to recognize when policy windows open and take full advantage of them when they do. Given the rarity of policy windows, the study concludes that incremental approaches consisting of agreements between the federal government and one or more provinces, or between two or more provinces and unilateral action by individual provinces or the federal government, offer a productive path forward for controversial energy and environmental issues. 

The history of Canadian federalism tells us that bilateral agreements and unilateral action by individual provinces will be the most common path forward on energy and environment. This is the classic Canadian formula of one step forward and a half step back. If this is repeated long enough, eventually Canada gets to the finish line.

– Duane Bratt, Professor, Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies, Mount Royal University, and Positive Energy Faculty Member 

There are no silver bullets to achieving federal-provincial cooperation on these contentious files. Progress will be hard won, but the history of energy and environmental federalism in Canada shows that it is possible.

– Monica Gattinger, Chair, Positive Energy and Full Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa

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