Giving Women a Voice in the National Energy Transformation Conversation

by | November 2023

This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.

Electric cars in cold climates, the effectiveness of the carbon tax, energy affordability in Canada, the rising cost of living: Post about any of these topics on social media and you’re sure to spark a flurry of impassioned comments.

Conversations surrounding high-stakes topics like these tend to escalate swiftly.

That’s why women across Canada are looking for safe spaces where they can express nuanced views about the role of Canadian oil and gas in energy transformation and how it impacts their lives and families, says Sue Riddell Rose.

“We really have seen a thirst for information, knowledge, understanding and solution-seeking dialogue about energy transformation,” says Ms. Riddell Rose, one of the founders and board chair of Canada Powered by Women (CPW), an organization dedicated to amplifying women’s voices as it relates to economic prosperity and the national energy transformation conversation.

This quest for meaningful dialogue is what prompted Ms. Riddell Rose and Tracey Bodnarchuk to be part of the group that started Canada Powered by Women in 2019.

“We have always felt women were underrepresented in this conversation, as we were all participating in similar discussions privately. However, when you look in the public domain, women’s voices aren’t as prominent as on other subjects,” says Ms. Bodnarchuk, the organization’s CEO.

What engaged women are saying

Even though it may feel like the public is deeply polarized on energy issues, CPW research indicates engaged women share common ground, says Ms. Bodnarchuk.

New research from Leger shows that while engaged women across Canada recognize there are environmental impacts of having oil and gas in the energy stack, a majority are unwilling to make tradeoffs that jeopardize their standard of living.

According to an October 2023 report, based on a survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Canada Powered by Women, nearly half of engaged women across different income groups and geographies said they think energy is unaffordable, says Paige Schoenfeld, senior vice-president at Leger. (Engaged women regularly consume local, national or U.S. news and are familiar with federal, provincial or municipal politics.)

“Seventy-eight per cent said they were unwilling to pay higher taxes that will come with reduced Canadian oil and gas production, while 52 per cent said they were unwilling to sacrifice their standard of living to reduce global emissions,” says Ms. Schoenfeld.

At the same time, the research showed that engaged women support solutions where industry leads with technology and innovation to reduce emissions, says Ms. Schoenfeld. For example, 85 per cent felt it’s important to invest in new technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) to reduce emissions, and 77 per cent support liquified and natural gas (LNG) production because it provides energy security and contributes to a successful economy with increased exports while reducing global emissions by supporting the transition off coal.

These results are a clear indication that while engaged women aren’t willing to sacrifice their own prosperity as a tradeoff to reduce global emissions, they get behind investments in exporting lower-emitting fossil fuels like LNG and technology like CCS, says Ms. Riddell Rose.

“The affordability crisis is pushing women beyond their financial capacity, so they are seeking to understand how energy policy is impacting their everyday lives and searching for balanced solutions,” says Ms. Riddell Rose.

Support to express their opinions

While engaged women want their voices heard, they want to do it in a safe environment.

An earlier survey by Leger from June 2023 showed that while 77 per cent of engaged women were likely to share their opinions on what contributes to the economic success or prosperity of Canada beyond their family circle with anonymity and support, only 37 per cent were willing to do it without that anonymity and support.

“They want their voices heard. They’re eager to share, but that anonymity piece is really key, and they want a safe environment for those conversations,” says Ms. Schoenfeld.

This is where CPW comes in, says Ms. Bodnarchuk. The organization wants to give women a safe space to talk about these issues without the fear of being cancelled, to facilitate open discussions and dialogue.

“Engaged women have informed opinions and are curious, they want to learn. It’s our responsibility at Canada Powered by Women to aggregate what women are telling us, and to play that out in the public domain,” Ms. Bodnarchuk says. “Women want anonymity and they want support and they’ve given us that license to be a voice for them.”

Ms. Riddell Rose notes that women are fully capable of unravelling the complexities, weighing the options, identifying their priorities, making compromises and coming up with solutions that serve themselves and the entire country. Canada Powered by Women is providing a platform for women to connect the dots and lead the conversation.

“We focused on engaged women as a starting point. But we’d like to talk with all women,” Ms. Bodnarchuk says. “We want to have a voice that is reflective of our country so that it becomes a national movement.”

Note about survey methodology
The survey data is from a study conducted by Leger using the LEO panel, from Sept 1st-14th 2023, among 1211 women in Canada. The women who qualified identified as someone who reads/listens to the news, is informed on politics, believe to be somewhat left/in the middle/on the right, and is neutral or in agreement with the many statements related to having an interest in: influencing government, learning about the future, learning more about topics that could impact Canadians future wealth and prosperity, understanding what I can do to support important issues facing Canadians, and having a voice about the future of oil and gas and energy.