Climate in the 2019 Canadian Federal Election: Media coverage as a measure of salience

Katie Reeder and George Hoberg
October 18, 2019

The Global Climate Strikes of September 20 and 27, 2019 were a set of large global protests sparked by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. In Canada, the climate strikes on the September 27 drew 600,000k+ and occurred against the backdrop of an approaching federal election. This post will analyze the impact of the September Climate strikes on the salience of climate change during the 2019 federal election, as characterized by Canadian media. Data used in this analysis was gathered from Dow Jones database, Factiva.


John Kingdon’s multiple streams framework posits that a ‘policy window’ emerges when the independent streams of problems, politics and policies converge. Windows can be opened by developments in the problems or politics streams. In Kingdon’s conception, a ‘problem’ comes to be defined as such through a focusing event, or as a result of strong responses though ‘formal’ feedback mechanisms (e.g. negative opinion poll) or ‘informal’ feedback mechanisms (e.g. a mass protest). For a policy window to open, however, the problems stream must ‘couple’ with changes in the politics stream, which increases the likelihood that a given issue will take root on a governmental agenda.

Measuring the Impact of Climate Strikes in Canada

The climate strikes of September 27 were a powerful ‘focusing event’ and feedback mechanism to communicate public dissatisfaction with climate action in Canada. In the context of an impending election, the scale of the Canadian climate strikes was also social proof of the salience of climate as a voting issue. Analysis of Canadian news media is one tool to examine the prevalence of climate in coverage of the federal election, and a possible “proxy measure for an issue’s agenda status among policymakers” (Beilmann, Susanne). The climate Strikes, along with several other events, helped drive the issue of climate into closer conversation with the federal election.

Analyzing the relationship between mentions of climate change in federal election coverage is one broad tool to gage the extent to which climate change has become a more significant, or less significant voting issue for Canadians over time. Data from Canadian newspapers over a five-year period illustrate how climate gained traction in coverage of the 2015 Canadian elections compared to those of 2019.

(Source: Factiva, Region= Canada)

Fig. 1 Mentions of ‘Climate Change’ AND ‘election’ in Canadian news outlets over the past five years. Factiva settings were restricted to ‘Canada’, and timeframe was set to ‘past five years’. All news mentions of ‘election’ were first compiled, then data on articles mentioning ‘election’ AND “climate change” were compiled and calculated as a percentage of total articles overall mentioning “election”.

The term ‘climate’ is mentioned markedly more often in the 2019 elections when compared to the last Canadian federal election year.  In 2015, the term ‘climate change’ was mentioned in 6.7% of news articles containing the term ‘election’, while in 2019, 14.4% of articles which mentioned ‘election’ also mentioned ‘climate change’. Using media attention as a proxy measure for issue salience, the data suggest that climate is a more significant voting issue in 2019 than in any historic Canadian election.

While a five-year analysis illustrates the broad changes in climate coverage in election years, this multi-year scale makes it impossible to identify the impact of discrete ‘framing’ events on the coverage of climate in the federal election. Reselecting a narrower study period on Factiva (August 28 – October 11, 2019) enables a more detailed analysis of their interactions.

(Source: Factiva. Region: Canada)

Fig. 2. Number of articles which mention ‘student strike’ (specifically ‘climate strike’ or ‘student strike’), “’climate change’ AND ‘elections’” from August 28-October 12, 2019. Setting a narrower date range on Factiva enables closer study of how media mentions of ‘elections’ and ‘climate change’ fluctuated near the Climate Strikes or near planned campaign events, such as televised debates.

The first wave of articles mentioning ‘elections’ and ‘climate change’ occurred near September 11, when the Canadian federal election was called. Coverage of the announcement may have surveyed party platforms and speculated about key voting issues, such as climate change. Another wave of interest occurred directly before and after the climate strikes on September 27. The data suggests two things: First, the climate strikes elevated the topicality of climate in elections coverage, independent of reporting on the school strikes (See fig. 2.- The rise in mentions of ‘election and climate change’ rises independent of mentions of ‘elections’ and ‘climate strike’ OR ‘student strike’).

Media focus on climate as an election issue did not evaporate after the climate strikes. Momentum continued. The next rise in mentions on October 3 coincides with the date of GreenPac’s ‘100 Debates on the Environment’ – a coordinated effort to raise the profile of environmental issues by staging a collection of 100 ‘non-partisan all-candidate debates on the environment’ nationwide. Although the mentions climate strikes and student strikes dropped off, the 100 Debates generated similar levels of media attention to climate and the election as the Climate Strikes.

Media attention to climate continued through to the English and French language Leaders Debates of October 7 and 9. Both events allocated time for debate on ‘environmental’ issues, and climate featured prominently in this sections and others. Climate was an arena which candidates used to distinguish themselves from other parties through critique of the effectiveness of opposing climate plans, and by ‘selling’ the benefits of their plans for climate action. Next-day coverage reflected the centrality of climate in the debates and contributed to the two surges of climate mentions in elections reporting.

Overall, climate as a topic featured more than twice as often in coverage of the 2019 federal election than in the election coverage of 2015. The climate strikes of September 27 and the planned events which followed (100 Debates, Climate Strikes) were related to significant spikes in media interest in climate and the elections. The recurrence and fairly consistent distribution of these spikes suggests that interest in climate as an election issue has kept momentum in the media since the climate strikes. A recent Angus Reid poll also suggests that climate is a top issue for voters. The extent to which climate will be one of, if not the defining issue in the upcoming federal election will be the subject of post-election analysis.


Analysis of Canadian media content helps to illustrate the relationships between events such as the Global Climate Strikes, 100 Debates on the Environment, and televised debates. However, this measure has several limitations:

  • Uncertain Relationship: Graphing media mentions of “climate strike” and “election” (fig. 1 and Fig. 2) presumes that articles mentioning ‘climate change’ and ‘election’ are discussing climate change in relation to an election. It is possible that some journalists may be discussing these issues separately in the same article.
  • International Election Coverage: Factiva cannot exclude coverage of foreign elections which also mention ‘climate change’. It is possible that coverage of international elections distorts data in all figures. Setting the parameters to ‘Canada’ limits this data to Canadian news sources which increases the likelihood that Canadian elections were the elections in conversation.
  • French Language Exclusion: Search terms were limited to English language news sources. As French media was excluded, data will only reflect the relationship between ‘election’ and ‘climate’ in Anglophone Canada. It is possible that Quebecois news sources would have altered the relationship between the terms: ‘election’, ‘climate’, and ‘climate strike OR student strike’.

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Comparing Parties’ Climate Platforms in the 2019 Canadian Election

George Hoberg
September 24, 2019

I gave a presentation today at UBC on a panel with colleagues. Some folks there expressed interest in seeing the slides, so I’m posting them here. The link to the pdf is posted below. I’ll try to keep it updated if there are any significant changes in the parties’ stances.

The pdf doesn’t have the notes where there are many references. Andrew Leach has some platform evaluations. EnviroEconomic and Clean Prosperity compared the Liberal and Conservative plans, as did Mark Jaccard.

September 28 update: Yesterday Trudeau announced a tree planting program that they say will achieve 30 MT reductions by 2030. If implemented, and that estimate checks out. Their progress towards the 2030 target would increase from 65% to 81%.

October 15 update:
Simon Donner, “No party’s climate plan will avoid dangerous global warming,” Policy Options, October 1, 2019.

Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Leach, How The Four Federal Parties’ Climate Plans Stack Up, Chatelaine, Oct 4, 2019

Hoberg Platform Comparison v. 2

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Where to donate to support the global climate strike – a Canadian version

George Hoberg
September 18, 2019

Faculty at universities and colleges across Canada have been working to support the Global Climate Strike events that in Canada will be focused around Friday, September 27.

Some faculty have pledged to donate their pay for the day to groups working to address the climate emergency. You can take the pledge here. I’ve been asked what groups I recommend. Here’s a list of groups that I would suggest.

For those outside of Canadian university faculty that would like to support the global climate strike by donating their day’s pay, please join us! This list is has two global groups and a number of Canadian-focused groups. Folks in other jurisdictions might want to pick other groups., leading global group “working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.”

Climate Action Network, network of over 100 organizations bringing “labour, development, faith-based, and Indigenous groups together with the key national, provincial, and territorial environmental organizations working on climate change.”

Climate Strike Canada, “the overarching network of students, young people, activists, and allies, which connects all of the climate action surrounding the Canadian school strike movement.”

Our Time, “a national campaign led by young people and millennials who are championing a vision for a Green New Deal for Canada — an ambitious plan to tackle climate change and inequality together.”

For Our Kids, “a network of concerned Canadian parents and grandparents taking action on climate” (half of their donations go to Climate Strike Canada).

International Rescue Committee, a refugee aid group that “helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.”

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The Trans Mountain Expansion Project – A Policy Case Study – September 2019 REVISED

Contentious infrastructure projects like Trans Mountain typically go through four stages: the review stage where the project application is reviewed by regulators and stakeholders participate in formal engagement processes; the political stage where authoritative decision-makers issue a formal decision; the judicial stage where the project is reviewed by the courts; and finally the on-the-ground stage of construction, physical demonstrations, and government response. These stages can overlap, and the process can circle back, as has occurred in the Trans Mountain case. With the regulatory and political stages of the re-approval complete, the case is now back in the hands of the Federal Court of Appeals.

The updating case study is available Trans Mountain Expansion Project – Policy Case V3 September 2019

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The BC pipeline reference case in context

George Hoberg
May 24, 2019

The fascinating thing about the Trans Mountain case is that it raises all sorts of questions  about what kind of country Canada is, and in particular who gets to decide what issues? Today’s issue is about how much say a provincial government has about a pipeline that crosses provincial boundaries, specifically whether the Province of British Columbia can regulate what flows through the pipeline.

In a decision released today, the BC Court of Appeal gave a resounding “no” to BC’s efforts to prevent increases in the amount of diluted bitumen flowing through the province. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that BC proposed regulation was “targeted legislation that in pith and substance relates to the regulation of an interprovincial (or “federal”) undertaking”, specifically the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. As a result, it is unconstitutional.

This decision is a significant blow to the Horgan government’s efforts to block the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The province has already announced that they will appeal. But it is just one piece of larger Trans Mountain conflict, which is itself only one level of a three-level struggle going on over pipelines and related issues.

A conflict at 3 levels

For most careful observers of the issue, the BC reference case was never considered the biggest risk to the viability of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. That remains how courts will deal with the issue of respecting Indigenous rights after the federal government gives its likely approval to the project. In other words: what say do Indigenous groups have on projects affecting their traditional territories?

And remember, even if those constitutional issues get resolved in the project’s favour, the project will still be facing a protracted and divisive civil disobedience campaign.

Oil vs. the Environment

At the second level, the Trans Mountain conflict is directly tied to a larger issue about oil sands expansion and environmental protection in in Canada. Both the oil sector and the province of Alberta are firmly committed to increasing oil sands production, and desperately need greater access to markets to increase revenues. But Canada has yet to construct a plan that puts us on a path to meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets pledged to the United Nations. Trudeau’s plan that got us part of the way there is under threat by defections from the Conservative governments now controlling the country’s two largest emitting provinces. We’ve yet to reconcile growing emissions from the oil sands with Canada’s requirement to reduce emissions significantly.

This second level is of course all tied up with the drama of the federal election coming up in October. Energy and climate policy will be central to the battle between Scheer’s Conservatives and the three parties to their left.

Who decides? What kind of country is Canada?

The third level of this conflict is who gets to decide what in Canada. Courts have now made it quite clear that neither municipal or provincial governments cannot take actions that have the effect of thwarting,  frustrating, or stopping an interprovincial pipeline. Unless this BC reference is reversed by the Supreme Court of Canada, the next big question is how much say Indigenous groups get on the issue of projects affecting their traditional territories.

The second, oil vs environment level of the conflict overlaps with this third level about what kind of country Canada is. The premier of Alberta has gone so far as to threaten secession if the province doesn’t get at least one new oil pipeline to new markets.

Today was a significant, but not surprising, setback for opponents of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. But it’s just another stage in a long and protracted battle about pipelines, reconciling oil sands expansion with Canada’s environmental commitments, and the decision rules for governing Canada.

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Here we go again: NEB redo of Trans Mountain review leaves climate impacts out

George Hoberg
October 6, 2018

September 26, 2018, the NEB released its draft list of issues and factors for consideration in its reconsideration of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The reconsideration commits the same indefensible error of not including climate impacts associated with the project in the proposed factors to consider in the analysis. Below is the text of my submitted comment to the NEB about this concern.

October 03, 2018

Ms. Sheri Young
Secretary of the Board
National Energy Board
Suite 210, 517 Tenth Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2R 0A8

Dear Ms. Young,

I am writing to provide comments on the draft List of Issues and the draft Amended Factors and Scope of the Factors for the Environmental Assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) for the NEB reconsideration of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The proposal would clearly rectify the primary flaw in the original NEB review identified by the Federal Court of Appeal by incorporating project-related marine shipping in the definition of the designated project.

However, the draft commits another serious, and easily rectifiable, error by excluding the consideration of the environmental and socio-economic implications of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project. This deficiency was acknowledged by the current federal government as a significant shortcoming that it addressed in part by repeatedly committing to consider at least upstream emissions in environmental assessments. If the current government already has an established process to do so for this reconsideration of TMX outside the NEB process, then this is a less serious defect (although still an unnecessarily fragmented way to conduct a review of a project). But I have not seen a statement committing the government to do this.

Best practice in environmental assessment considers all significant environmental impacts of the project being assessed. Given the severity of the global climate challenge, and Canada’s commitment to the international community to play its part in reducing global emissions, it is imperative that this be included in NEB’s reconsideration. I would note that the US, in its reviews of major pipeline projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, assesses both upstream and downstream greenhouse gas implications. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s assessment of upstream greenhouse gas emissions found the following: “Considering only the capacity added by the Project, emissions could range from 13 to 15 Mt of CO2 eq per year.” Those magnitudes clearly classify GHGs as an environmental impact of significant concern deserving consideration. That ECCC assessment is now two and one-half years old, and market conditions affecting the modelled impact might have changed significantly.


George Hoberg

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The Trans Mountain Expansion Project – A Policy Case Study – REVISED

Sarah Frose and George Hoberg
August 30, 2018

In a stunning development in Canadian politics today, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The court found two major flaws. First, it ruled the NEB erred by not including tankers when it established the scope of its project. Second, it ruled the federal government did not demonstrate it engaged in a “genuine and sustained effort to pursue meaningful, two-way dialogue” with First Nations.

Now construction on the pipeline cannot proceed unless and until the government corrects these serious deficiencies.

We’ve updated our policy case to account for this major new development. Link to PDF is below. A website is coming shortly

Trans Mountain Expansion Project – Policy Case V2

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The Trans Mountain Expansion Project – A Policy Case Study

Trudeau's speech approving the Trans Mountain Expansion Project

Sarah Froese and George Hoberg
August 22, 2018

We have completed a case study on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, updated through August 19, 2018. We’ll be putting online on a case study website shortly. But we wanted to make it available now in the event any instructors are interested in using it in classes in the fall. It’s designed for use in Hoberg’s public policy classes at UBC, but we are hoping that it can serve as a useful resource beyond those classes for students, instructors, the media, and members of the public who are interested in this fascinating case of Canadian policy. More developments will be playing out in the near future, and we will update the case to reflect major new developments.

Trans Mountain Expansion Project – Policy Case

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The Two Elephants in the Room at the Pipeline Summit

George Hoberg
April 14, 2018

March 10, 2018 protest in Burnaby, BC

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and British Columbia Premier John Horgan prepare for the emergency pipeline summit, the dominant discourse in mainstream and social media has been about Alberta’s economic needs and whether or not the BC government is overstepping its constitutional jurisdiction with its proposed diluted bitumen regulation. Those two issues are unquestionably critical, but there are two larger issues looming at the summit: Alberta’s climate challenge and indigenous reconciliation. No one at the summit will be representing these latter two issues but they are undeniably elephants in the room.

Alberta’s Climate Challenge

One of the more remarkable things about the Trans Mountain conversation has been Trudeau and Notley’s claim that the pipeline project is a climate solution. It is true that in the short term, politically, getting Alberta’s participation in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change was not possible without Trudeau committing to push forward a new pipeline. But the longer-term problem is that it’s hard to square the oil sands expansion planned by Alberta and enabled by the Trans Mountain project with Canada’s UN commitment to the international community to reduce emission by 30% (below 2005 levels) by 2030.

The current policies that make up the Pan-Canadian Framework are not sufficient for Canada to meet its 2030 goals. It’s hard to see how Canada can meet that target without reductions from Alberta, whose much-celebrated Climate Leadership Plan does not reduce emissions through 2030 (report, p. 10). Even more important when discussing long-lived investments like pipelines, for Canada to be a responsible global citizen in contributing the long-term climate goals, post-2030 reductions in emissions will have to be much steeper.

The challenge all along is that the Alberta oil sands fueled model of economic development is simply not sustainable as we shift to a low-carbon, clean energy future. Sooner or later the Governments of Alberta and Canada need to reckon with this reality. Trudeau’s Pan-Canadian Framework, by buying Alberta’s participation with an emissions-expanding pipeline, simply postpones the necessary task of dealing with this reality.

By approving the pipeline, Trudeau chose to imposes the costs and risks on British Columbia, for which there will be an electoral backlash form the west coast. But if Trudeau is serious about climate leadership, or even simply compliance with Canada’s 2030 targets, he’ll need to reckon with the Alberta problem. There’s really no other alternative than beginning the transition away from the oil sands as the core driver of the province’s economy. That will be costly — socially, economic and politically.

Notley certainly doesn’t want to deal with this issue. Trudeau doesn’t either. Horgan has undermined his ability to represent the climate case when he changed the province’s policy framework in an effort to attract a major LNG project, and by advocating increased domestic refining as an alternative to a pipeline to export raw bitumen. Nonetheless, Canada and Alberta’s climate challenge loom large over the emergency meeting.

The Indigenous Reconciliation Challenge

The other elephant in the room is Canada’s challenge in reconciling settler governments with its indigenous peoples. One of the cornerstones of Trudeau’s election campaign has been building a government to government relationship with aboriginal people. Yet while three settler government leaders sit down to discuss the fate of a project of great to concern to many of Canada’s First Nations, no First Nations leadership will be present at the summit. The Governments of Alberta and Canada are rushing to help Kinder Morgan ramp up summer construction even before courts have ruled on multiple lawsuits against the project by First Nations.

All three settler governments attending the summit have committed to fully implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Yet there is a still a huge gulf in understanding of what role First Nations should play in project decision-making. Existing Canadian law, and the expectations of all three settler governments, is that Crown governments have an obligation to consult with and accommodate First Nations, but the consent of First Nations is not required for projects to go forward. In contrast, First Nations believe that UNDRIP’s provision of “free, prior, and informed consent” from indigenous groups means what it says: First Nations consent is required for a project to go forward in their traditional territories.

The Elephants Aren’t Going Away

Each of Canada’s oil sands pipeline proposals has ran into the same process pathology: individual projects have been transformed into proxy battles over broader issues about Canadian climate policy and indigenous rights. The fact that both issues are being ignored in the emergency pipeline summit does not mean that they are any less important or that they are going to go away. Canada is long overdue for serious conversations about reconciling settler and aboriginal title and Alberta’s economic model with a low-carbon future. Let’s hope the gathering of political leadership at the pipeline summit advances those two conversations.

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Status of significant litigation against the Site C dam

George Hoberg
Updated June 29, 2017

This morning the Supreme Court dismissed the leave the appeal for the Prophet River case, bringing the legal proceedings over this phase of the Site C proceedings to a close.

Claire Allen and George Hoberg
May 19, 2017

This table provides a resource to help understand the complex litigation against the Site C dam. Thus far, lawsuits challenging the approval decisions by the Government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada have all been dismissed. Plaintiffs in two of these cases, on First Nations treaty rights and consultation, have applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada – a decision on whether to hear the appeal is pending. The only case decided for the plaintiff was when BC Hydro applied to have an injunction enforced to remove protesters from disrupting construction.

Case Court and citation Subject Most recent action
Prophet River First Nation & West Moberly First Nation v. BC Hydro BC Court of Appeal (on appeal from BC Supreme Court)

2017 BCCA 58

Lack of an unjustified infringement determination and adequacy of consultation Dismissed Feb 2, 2017, plaintiffs have applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
West Moberly First Nation & Prophet River First Nation v. BC FLNRO BC Supreme Court

2016 BCSC 2007

Adequacy of consultation Dismissed Oct 13, 2016
Prophet River First Nation v. Canada Federal Court of Appeal (on appeal of Federal Court decision) 2017 FCA 15 Whether the federal cabinet was required to consider whether environment effects constitute infringement Dismissed Jan 23, 2017, plaintiffs have applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
BC Hydro v Ken Boon et al BC Supreme Court

2016 BCSC 355

Injunction against protesters blocking construction Injunction granted Feb 29, 2016
Peace Valley Landowner Association v. BC Min. of Environment BC Court of Appeal

2016 BCCA 377 (on appeal from the BC Supreme Court)

Whether the Government of BC could choose not to consider JRP recommendations for future government regulation of BC Hydro Dismissed Sep 15, 2016
Peace Valley Landowner Association v. Canada (Attorney General) Federal Court

2015 FC 1027

Whether the federal cabinet sufficient justified the significant adverse effects Dismissed Aug 28, 2015
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