Who are Albertans, Anyway? Webinar Recap

A beautiful spring day in the park. People sitting on green grass field surrounded by bare trees during daytime. Calgary, AB, Canada. April, 2020.
In February 2023, Re.Climate hosted a panel discussion with political scientists Dr. Jared Wesley and Dr. Melanee Thomas and political pollster Janet Brown, unpacking how Albertan identity, values, and beliefs impact support for climate action and energy transition. Here's some of what we heard.

Albertans are not who they (or we) think they are

  • The panel kicked-off with Jared Wesley’s research on who Albertans are versus who we think they are. In his research, when prompted to draw an Albertan, most Albertans drew a white, male, truck-driving, Tim Hortons-drinking, cowboy or oil and gas worker. This stereotypical perception dominates the public narrative of the “average” Albertan and limits the public imagination of what is politically possible.

  • In terms of political values, Albertans are more progressive than you may think. When asked to place themselves on a political scale of 0-10 (zero being “far-left” and 10 being “far-right”), most Albertans place themselves in the middle (5.1). However, when asked where they place other Albertans on the same scale, the average answer shifts to 6.1.

  • Why have high levels of support in Alberta for net zero (68%), energy transition (51%) and renewables (79%) failed to translate into political discourse? Dr. Melanee Thomas proposed that politics and the concerns of average Albertans are often very far apart. Provincially, political actors lean heavily on stereotypes and stereotypical narratives to sustain division and donations. Federally, politicians can win by also leaning into stereotypes because Albertans do not pivot their vote. So despite support and concern, short-term calculations are at direct odds with good representation.

5 Key Alberta Audience Segments

Janet Brown shared topline results from recent values segmentation research that identified five key audiences:

  • Veteran Activists: Strong progressive and environmental values.
  • Limited Bandwidth: Hold left-leaning values but not stridently, hold centrists environmental values.
  • Calgary Dissonance: Hold strong environmental values, but otherwise libertarian/ right-of-center social and political values.
  • Red Tories: Centre-right on most issues, strongly right-wing on economic issues.
  • Aggrieved and Entrenched: Strong right-of-center positions on all issues, especially the environment.
The Limited Bandwidth group is an important group for communicators to work with, but tend to be very hard to reach. These are people care about the environment, but are stretched thin with concerns about inflation, access to healthcare and education.

What should communicators keep in mind?

  • Overall, Albertans support an energy transition, but are hesitant about the pace at which it should/will happen. Albertans likely want to have a discussion about timing, but tend to feel like the rest of the country wants to paint them with a brush that is resistant to change and exclude them from the conversation.
  • Avoid using the term “just transition” and use language that refers to diversifying energy sources and the economy, or a fair transition instead. Just transition is ineffective in Alberta as it is perceived as an environmentalist buzzword that creates barriers to engagement, especially amongst the Limited Bandwidth segment.
  • From a policy perspective, you don’t need to have climate change be the number one issue in the public agenda and you don’t need to persuade everybody to be on your side in order to see progress—don’t get too hung up on what it’s called, so long as it works towards the bigger picture.

Research Referenced by the Panelists

Watch the Recording

Read the Report