This article examines the results of a survey of 1,000 Canadians dealing with the conflicting positions of the energy sector and environmentalists. The poll indicates a great desire for the federal government to finally take leadership in finding a balanced solution to the issue.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, world issues, politics

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What are the key issues for Canadians?
  • Where does support lie – with the energy sector or the environmentalists?
  • What level of dissatisfaction is there with the actions of the federal government to date on this issue?
  • What role do Canadians believe the federal government should take?

New Terminology:

Sustainable development

Materials Needed:

Access to the Internet for research

Two class periods


Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

When the topic of oil comes up in Canada, the Alberta tar sands and the pipeline debates are usually the focus of the attention. The tar sands are a hot item because of their negative impact on climate change. The pipelines receive attention because of concerns that they reinforce our reliance on fossil fuels and a threat to the environment. The federal Conservative government has stressed that Canada has a resource-based economy and has made oil production and export a major focus. Across the country average Canadians struggle with the issue of what is good for the economy versus the impact on the environment. The debates over which should have precedence – the economy or the environment – have become heated and protracted.  The questions include: where do the majority of Canadians stand, and what can leadership do to address this issue so that opposing positions are not necessarily mutually exclusive? The federal government has been criticized for favouring oil development over the environment and failing to provide any leadership on sustainable resource development.  As a result, there is a void which needs to be addressed and Canadians need to have, as the article states, “a frank discussion on how these two things can work together”.  This lesson will use the article to have students reflect on where they stand on the issue and then research examples of how sustainable resource development has been pursued. They will then be asked to examine the position of the major political Canadian parties on the sustainable development of our oil resources.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students which they think is more important – the economy or the environment? Why?
  • Get their responses to the question and then ask them where they think the majority of Canadians stand on the issue.
  • Once they have responded to that question, ask them one further question: “Do you think these two things are mutually exclusive?”
  • Once you have gotten their responses, provide them with a copy of the article and allow them time to read it.
  • Have the students provide responses to what they have just read, indicating anything they found interesting or surprising.
  • With this as background, divide the class into groups of five or six students and assign them the following task:

Find examples of where a natural resource has been developed in a sustainable fashion and prepare a brief report for the class on how this has been done.

  • Allow the groups some time to research and prepare their brief reports and then have them report to the class.
  • Begin the second period of the lesson by indicating to the students that the federal Conservative government has been widely criticized for putting oil production and export ahead of environmental concerns and failing to take significant action to address its climate change commitments.
  • Inform them that with a federal election coming this year it is important to know where the major political parties stand on the issue of the economy versus the environment.
  • Divide the class into six groups and assign one of the following political parties to each group so that there will be two groups working on each party: the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party.
  • Ask the groups to research the party they have been assigned and prepare a report on its stated position regarding sustainable development of natural resources – especially oil reserves and natural gas.
  • Allow the groups time to prepare their reports and then have the groups who have researched the same party compare notes and prepare a final report for the class.
  • Once this has been done, have the three reports presented to the class.
  • Hold a plenary session to end the lesson, during which time the students could discuss the similarities and differences in the position of the parties.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • The consolidation of learning will come during the group reports of the assigned tasks to the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will be able to:

  1. Explain sustainable development
  2. Identify some examples of sustainable development
  3. Identify the positions of the three major federal parties on the issue of sustainable development of oil and natural gas energy resources.

Confirming Activity:

Assign the following brief position paper for homework:

Based on the information gathered and presented in class during this lesson, if an election were held today, using sustainable resource development as the sole issue, I would vote for the following party. (Be specific in giving the reasons for your choice.)