Tories to poll on clean energy

The Conservative government is spending $240,000 to conduct polls on how Canadians feel about green energy.

MONTREAL — The Conservative government is spending $240,000 to conduct polls on how Canadians feel about green energy.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press indicate that Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis recently signed off on a plan to conduct extensive public-opinion research on issues ranging from the clean-energy economy to the Energy Star symbol seen on household appliances.

The plan was finalized in the weeks after the federal budget, which had raised the ire of environmental groups for what they perceived as a paltry level of funding for green-energy projects.

Renewable energy producers said Ottawa imperilled their industry by failing to guarantee long-term funding for the ecoEnergy program, which was set up in 2007 to provide $1.4 billion in funding.

The program is slated to run out in 2011 which, critics say, effectively ends subsidies for solar and wind energy projects.

“It was the worst budget in terms of green energy that we’ve seen in 15 years,” said Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s natural resources critic.

“It’s strange that after having made the decision to gut green programs, the government is now going out to ask Canadians their opinion of those very same programs.”

In a March memo to Paradis, released under the Access to Information Act, bureaucrats sought final approval for “significant research to explore Canadians’ attitudes towards energy issues, a project identified by your office as a priority.”

The plan includes two studies. One, worth $175,000, “seeks a clear and current understanding of public opinion on a range of issues related to energy policy in Canada.”

As part of this study, Ottawa wants to explore Canadians’ understanding of the national and international energy context as well as their tolerance for certain costs.

It will also gather opinions from industry and environmental leaders on “potential direction or approaches to energy policy.”

The second study, worth $65,000, will track awareness of the Energy Star symbol, most often found as a sticker on household appliances tested for efficiency.

“This information is a critical measure of program success in efforts to educate the public on energy efficient products,” the public opinion research plan reads.

Polling firms Harris-Decima and Ipsos-Reid have been contracted to conduct the research.

Officials at Natural Resources Canada said, in a response by email, that the polls support a throne speech promise “to review energy-efficiency and emissions-reduction programs for effectiveness.”

The studies represent the lion’s share of the department’s funding for such opinion research.

The department had previously committed to spending $112,028 to test ads this year for the ecoEnergy homes-grant program.

Cullen said he was surprised Natural Resources was willing to spend another $240,000 for polling on topics around which he says there is already a Canadian consensus.

“We already know the answers to the polling,” he said. “I wish they would have spent the money on green energy.”

The new round of research could be used by the Conservative government in an order to sell, or perhaps even add to, existing climate-change policies.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice has said he will wait to see whether the United States adopts the cap-and-trade approach before committing Canada to a similar program.

But an interim report released last month by the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources noted that Canadian businesses mostly favour a carbon tax instead of a carbon market.

It also says Canada would benefit from a national energy policy.

“The time has come for a national conversation about energy that gives voice to a consensus view going forward,” the report reads.

“Canada does indeed need a Canadian energy strategy.”