carbon footprint

We trust farmers, new survey says

Canadians love farmers, have split opinions on forestry and don’t understand mining, according to a survey of perceptions of resource industries.
index
“Western Canadian residents recognize the importance of resources to our economy; they broadly support continued growth of resource industries,” said Len Coad, who directs the Canada West Foundation’s Centre for Natural Resources Policy. “But they have some expectations where they feel a need for improvement.”
For a report published Friday, the foundation had Ipsos Reid survey 600 residents each from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario for their perceptions of four natural-resource sectors.
“There’s been a growing awareness across the West in the past several years of the challenges of developing resources, of moving them to market and of meeting the expectations of the public,” said Coad, whose group will now dig down on policy suggestions.
The survey looked at perception, trust and willingness to advocate for the four sectors: energy, forestry, mining and agriculture. Responses were weighted by provincial population, while Ontario results were kept separate to compare attitudes with a region far less dependant on natural resources.
“Ontario was just for comparative purposes, and the range of answers was smaller than we had expected,” Coad said. “Ontario responses were mostly in-line with other provinces.”
Forestry was the most polarizing of sectors. The report notes that the sector is better respected after criticism over clear-cutting spiked in the late 1990s. But sustainability came out as both the top reason to support the sector at 22 per cent, and the top reason not to, at 30 per cent. Coad said it’s a trend seen across multiple sectors that speaks to divided perceptions among Canadians.
“What you’re seeing is people picking the same reasons for their negative views and positive views in terms of trust for industries. So we either really like them or we don’t.”
David Lindsay, president and CEO of Forest Products Association of Canada said most people don’t realize that trees cleared for industry must all be replaced with young trees.
“The forest products industry in Canada has been working hard to improve its environmental footprint and we’ve made excellent progress,” said Lindsay. He said paper mills have reduced their carbon footprint, and added that tactics like clearcutting replicate natural processes like wildfires.
“We have over 90 per cent of the forests that were here when Europeans arrived still forested. So we have a very sustainable industry,” he said.
Mining had the most varied support by province, which Coad said was unsurprising given its different manifestation in each province. “Alberta is mostly quarrying sand and gravel and digging rocks out of ground,” Coad said as an example. “In Saskatchewan mining is mostly potash and uranium which Alberta has none of.”
Overall, the sector had the lowest familiarity among Western Canadians, which didn’t surprise Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada.
“Forestry operations will cover huge areas, but a mine is very localized and unless you’re living in the community next to it you won’t think of it a lot, only in broad terms like economic contributions,” he said, pointing out that provinces with more mining had higher trust levels.
Gratton’s group has commissioned similar annual surveys specific to mining for the past three years, all of which had similar results to Friday’s report.
His group’s surveys have found government regulations perceived to be strong lead to better trust in mining companies.
Meanwhile, agriculture came out on top, with more than half of respondents saying that they trust the industry, understand it well enough to have an opinion and would be willing to speak positively about it.
Coad declined to speculate whether this was due to a perception of what has become a heavily industrialized sector as small-scale family farms. But he did point out that when asked to identify natural resource industries, only 16 per cent included agriculture, suggesting that “people don’t really view farming and agriculture as a resource industry.”
The report also noted that contamination or food safety issues could dramatically topple agriculture’s reputation.
Overall, Western Canadians linked resource sectors with employment opportunities, and the strongest driver of trust was impact on local communities. But environmental concerns were prominent for each sector.
“It’s not a surprise the public is looking for improvements on environmental performance, but it’s a bit of a surprise to the extent,” Coad said. An extensive part of the report focuses on a fourth sector, energy, which respondents found economically beneficial but lacking social responsibility.
The CWF said Ipsos Reid surveyed 3,038 people online in March, with a sample size considered accurate within plus or minus 2.2 per cent. No cost was given.