Think Energy

What the data tells us

Apr 1, 2024

Decarbonization, the energy transition, and combating the climate crisis are critical to the future of Canadians (and the planet). But we all have different priorities and opinions. In episode 134 of thinkenergy, David Coletto, founder and CEO of Abacus Data, unpacks some of the key issues Canadians face today. Abacus Data is a Canadian market and public opinion research agency, delivering insights to guide policy decisions, messaging, and how to foster collective dialogue about pressing challenges.

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Trevor Freeman  00:07

Hi, welcome to thinkenergy podcast that dives into the fast changing world of energy through conversations with industry leaders, innovators and people on the frontlines of the energy transition. Join me, Trevor Freeman, as I explore the traditional, unconventional and even up and coming facets of the energy industry. If you've got thoughts, feedback or ideas for topics that we should cover, we'd love to hear from you. Please reach out to us at think energy at hydro Hey, everyone, welcome back. On this show, we often hear from energy experts, whether that's talking about a specific technology or up and coming solutions, or speaking with people that represent organizations who are playing a key role in the energy space. And while that's great, and we could obviously learn a lot from that. It's also important that as we're having those conversations we're doing so with a good understanding of the context around us. By now, I hope we are all very familiar with the concept of knowledge bubbles, because I'm passionate about decarbonisation about the energy transition. And especially because I work in the energy sector. I speak to and hear from a lot of like minded individuals, we share common drivers and use a lot of the same factors to make our decisions. For example, when my own personal heating system, you know, a standard gas furnace was nearing the end of its life about four years ago, switching to a less carbon intensive option was really important to me, and that factored heavily in my decision. Even when my furnace ended up dying in the middle of January, before I had a chance to do all my research and forcing me to make a really quick decision. But I know that not everyone thinks that way. And nor do they have the luxury to think that way. For most folks getting something affordable and quick that provides heat and as easy to use is the most important thing. fuel sources low on the list. And my first appearance on the show when our previous house, Dan asked me why I was interested in taking over his hosting duties. I noted that while I was encouraged that there does seem to be a general consensus around climate change being a real thing. Finally, at least for the majority of Canadians, we as a society are far from aligned on the exact strategies and tools that we need to deploy in order to do something about it. You know, nor is climate change, the only thing going on in the lives of everyday Canadians. There's an affordability problem, there's a housing crisis, we're worried about having an effective health care system. And seeing parts of that, you know, not work so well. The list of things that matter to Canadians is long. And we as a society are not homogeneous in our thinking. So that is why I think today's conversation is really important. David Coletto, holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Calgary, and is the founder and chair and CEO of abacus data, a Canadian market and public opinion research agency. So David and Abacus have really made it their mission to help all of us better understand what Canadians are thinking and feeling about kind of everything. It's this insight that helps drive policy decisions, messaging, and ultimately how we can best have a collective conversation about our path forward. David, welcome to the show.

David Coletto  03:28

Hey, Trevor, thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Trevor Freeman  03:30

Great. Let's start with the basics. You've described yourself as infinitely curious, passionate and eternally optimistic? First of all, that's a pretty fantastic start to a bio. But help me fill in the blanks here. How did you come to start abacus? How do you maintain that curiosity, passion and optimism?

David Coletto  03:48

So yeah, everyone asked this question like, when did you want to become a pollster? Like, was this something you always wanted to do? And it's funny because it is, I don't know the exact moment. I don't think there was like a light bulb that said, I want to do this. But I think over the course of high school, and then, you know, as I thought about what I wanted to do, after high school, I was really always interested in two things. One is politics. And then two was stats, I was that kid who like, I'm aging myself here a little bit, but I would be no, my parent, my parents, I grew up in Toronto would get the Toronto Star and I would, you know, every morning, open and up during the baseball season and look at the box scores and just be like devouring stats around baseball. And so I think as a pollster, I started in politics and an interest in politics. And, you know, a lot of what I do, looking at the political world, is basically the box scores for politics, you know, who's up who's down how Canadians feel about those political leaders. But that expanded beyond that, over the last 20 years, and I've come to just be someone who's just really interested in and curious about why people do what they do. Why do they think what they think? And I have this amazing job where I get to ask 1000s of Canadians hundreds of questions every week, from anything from politics, all the way to how they feel about work, how they make decisions, on, you know, where they eat out for dinner to stupid stuff that, you know, feels a little fluffy and not that important around, you know, what are they going to do on Valentine's Day? And that, I think, is what keeps me motivated. The optimist in me, I don't know where that comes from. I don't know if it's part genetic art, just, you know, outlook. But I'm always somebody that sometimes drives my team crazy, who will take a situation that's not always positive and say, okay, but what's the upside? And how do we? How do we get over that? And I think as somebody who is, especially over the last number of years, who has been kind of seeing people's reaction to the world around them in a very negative way, I think you almost have to be an optimist to be able to do that. Because it's been a really tough time. And most people's responses to questions these days are negative when it comes to pretty much everything that's going on in the world.

Trevor Freeman  06:15

That transition, I guess, or that following from politics to other issues. I'm curious how that is guided for you and for your organization? Do you follow where the conversations are going? Or do you have a bit of a strategy of, you know, we want to, we want to test this theory, or we want to test this hypothesis, talk us through how you decide what information you're going after?

David Coletto  06:36

I think we're always interested in just helping our clients. Anyone who is consuming our content was interested in why the world works, the way it does, is providing some insight into it. Right? Again, I think we have this, this really unique opportunity as a market research company to tell Canadians what other Canadians are thinking. And I think by understanding each other, I believe, we can find a way to get to whatever goal we want. For some, it's about putting yourself like research puts yourself into other people's shoes for a moment and understanding the world from their perspective, the perceptions that they have, which I think are so important to understanding why they do or think anything else. And being able to pinpoint the thing, or the perspective that comes to shape how other people see things. And so that's what I'm really fascinated by, like digging deeper, and trying to get at the why is the most fascinating and interesting part of my job. And the polls, you know, we always say we started, I started my career, looking at things from a political angle. But politics is only a very tiny portion of the things that we do. And I always like to remind, you know, every audience, whether it's a CEO, who is much more focused on like their profit and loss sheets and try to increase the revenue to the political leaders that I have the privilege of talking to, from time to time, is that every person, I think has three cells, they're at once a consumer, they're at once, especially if they're in the in the labor market, a worker but even if they're retired, or haven't yet entered that labor market, what the work that they did, is still important to who they are, or the work they want to do is important to who they are. And then lastly, they're also voters, or they can be voters. And so those three are interconnected. And that's why I think it's really valuable to see them as those three things and understanding how their views on politics informs the choices they make as consumers and and then how they are able to behave as consumers may also influence the choices they make for where they work, or the demand they have from their workplace, and and the political world as well.

Trevor Freeman  08:59

Yeah, totally. I think that's a great lens to put on things not just for you in the kind of let's call it data business, not for those in the sort of political business or political world, if you will, you know, we think about that and the energy side of things, obviously, our lens is through energy and how what people are doing with it and using it and the decisions are making, but that's not how people look at the decisions in their lives. They don't look at it through that lens. So being able to step outside your bubble, as I kind of mentioned, is really helpful and I think could help all of us no matter the sector we're in so great way to frame that.

David Coletto  09:33

Yeah, and I'm often that like, spark or stimulus that like a leader would bring in to a team and say, okay, David, give us the broad perspective on things because so often, when you like Trevor get to spend most of your time thinking about energy and, and and the policy and how do you deliver it and then all the shifts that might be happening, you're very much an expert, and you develop an expertise, but I am not really an expert. Hi kind of a mini expert on everything, but also bring this really broad perspective that I can, I can tie things together to say the other reason why people are resistant to buying, for example, if I'm an electric vehicle, it's not because they're fundamentally opposed to an energy transition, it's because they're just worried that they're not gonna able to charge it. So if the infrastructure is not there, how do we expect them to be comfortable doing that, or, you know, if you're talking to Albertans, who are the most resistant to moving away from oil and gas and embracing kind of an electrification of the world fundamental because most of their livelihoods are based on an industry that requires extracting oil from the ground and processing it? So when you start to understand the why, like, why do people get to these perspectives, or ultimately, their behaviors, it's often tied to something a little bit deeper. And that gives you, I think, a way to then figure out how to talk to them? How do you persuade them? And how do you most importantly, I think, relate to them? Totally.

Trevor Freeman  10:55

So on that note, you know, data, what you guys are doing, it's useful for decision making, it's useful for informing policy. I guess what I'm trying to ask is, where's that line between pushing a narrative versus understanding what narrative is out there? You know, obviously, you're hired to go get data to help inform different organizations or political entities making their decisions? Is there a line there between getting data and pushing data or pushing a narrative?

David Coletto  11:26

Yeah, I'm often, you know, either often criticized, if anything, because people believe that the polls that we put out in the public domain, for example, are actually influencing public opinion itself. And the evidence of that is minimal. I mean, I don't think there's millions of Canadians who could name abacus data? Or know what the heck we do? Or, or, or have you ever read one of our polls, but I don't, you know, deny that that research at any level of an organization or in the broader kind of conversation we have about society doesn't have an influence. And so when I say like, my vision for abacus is to be the most sought after influential polling firm in Canada. And what I mean by influential is not that we are at ourselves, influencing the direction of policy, but that we're that the quality of our research, and the insights we derive from that research, influences decisions in a positive way. Like, my fundamental goal is to help leaders make better decisions. And I think if your decisions are data driven, if they're evidence based, if they're rooted in understanding your audience, then you can make better, more confident decisions. And so that's what I mean, when I'd say I want to be influential, I don't care. You know, if everybody in the entire country knows who I am, and they want to hear what I have to say, my opinion matters very little. Now, my opinion about what I think the research I do matters, I think is useful. And every researcher brings a unique perspective to the research they do. And I like, I admit, I've got biases, I view the world a certain way. I'm an optimist. And so I'm constantly trying to find the upside of a lot of the stuff that we look at. But I don't believe that, you know, for research to be effective, it's not just, you know, let's go do a bunch of research and write it down on a piece of paper, and it was handed out. I think, and I think where Abacus has been really successful, is that being seen as an effective communicator of what that research means? And helping organizations leaders that whoever action it, do something with it that helps achieve their goals?

Trevor Freeman  13:43

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Okay, so obviously, one of the reasons I want you on here is to talk about energy, climate change, decarbonisation, et cetera. Before we dive too deep into some of the specific research you've done, let's talk kind of high level about some of the evolving trends that you may have seen over the last number of years when it comes to Canadians perspectives on those items, you know, help us understand where we've been going these last couple of years and where we are today?

David Coletto  14:12

Well, I think let's start with a step back and look at the broad kind of mindset that I think is important to understand then how people's views of these issues evolve over time. I think we have seen over the course of five years, a rapid shift in the mindset of the general public that has been informed and influenced by a whole ton of external events. Right. So pre pandemic, I think headed, you know, the end of 2019 going into 2020, the public in Canada, Ontario, and Ottawa was very much and I think I'm cautiously optimistic kind of friend, right? Things were okay. The economy was doing okay. Interest rates were very low relative to where they are today. And then the pandemic happened and you had this immediate flip in the mindset to one where most people at least in those first four months of the pandemic, the mindset was fear, didn't know what this meant, we were told to stay home, we didn't know how bad it was going to get, or whether we were gonna get infected, and what it meant for our family, our jobs, you name it. Soon after that, though, I think it became clear that okay, we can control it, we know a little bit more about this virus. And we entered into a kind of a roller coaster of fear and relief, fear and relief, as those case numbers went up and down. Coming out of the pandemic, though, and I think the defining mindset up today, which is really important to understand, to then understand why people will be resistant to certain public policy choices on climate or may not be ready to fully embrace the transition is that most Canadians right now, and I say most, I mean, like 80 to 90% of them, I believe, have a mindset that's very much tied to scarcity. And that is, that is a real shift. And what that means is that a lot of the things that people have come to expect that they can get in their lives are either more expensive, or harder to find or get, or they fear losing what they already have. And those are often tied to issues like housing, the general cost of living and health care. And so that mindset then causes us to view public policy decisions, broader economic forces, and our day to day lives through a very different lens than one where I described as there's plenty of everything, right. And having a good mindset means I can take risks, I can perhaps pay a little bit more, even if the perception is that I pay more, even if it's not true, in order to achieve other kinds of goals. But when I'm the perception of struggling everyday just to get the kind of life I want, or the one in three Canadians who feel like they've completely fallen behind, that is going to make it much harder for me to be persuaded to do things that feel like a big change or feel like they're going to disrupt my life more than it already is. Now, if we expand that, and then we say, okay, so how do we overlay that onto views around the broader issues around climate change, energy transition? I think what's clear in the long term trends is the vast majority, 90 plus percent of Canadians believe climate change is real and is caused by human behavior. overwhelming majorities believe that we, that's actually a crisis that we have to do something about. And in the shorter term, the last I would say, 12 to 18 months as a result of you and me, Trevor, I don't know about you I grew up in, you know, in Ontario, I never once in my entire life, stepped out on a June morning, and saw smoky skies, and you know, take my dog for a walk and bring her home and she smells like smoke. That was never part of my experience. My wife grew up in Alberta, much more likely to happen in Western Canada over time. So I think there's also become a realization that's firmed up that if we don't do something about this, that it's going to have not just theoretical consequences for the earth, but actual implications for my life, I won't be able to do certain things, my health might be compromised, the value of my property might be at risk, I may not be able to ensure, and so that I think has created far more desire or demand to see action. But what's muted it, at least in the short term, is that scarcity mindset where people have basically said, including young people, which is the most fascinating thing is, people often assume younger Canadians are more likely to, you know, say climate change is a priority for the first time in probably ever that I've tracked this, we now have younger Canadians, if you're under 30, you're the least likely to say climate change is one of your top three priorities. Interesting. And that's because other issues, like housing, like economic security, like the cost of living, have overtaken them. And so short term fear of short term scarcity, as at least for now push down fears about the longer term scarcity that climate change will create.

Trevor Freeman  19:07

As we see more of these, in a really defining event, it's interesting, you bring up you know, walking out your door and seeing that weird yellow hue of smoke that we've never experienced before. As we see more of these defining events, does that override that short term, kind of, I don't want to say short term thinking as a pejorative sense, but like override that, you know, looking to tomorrow and remind us that like there's something bigger here happening.

David Coletto  19:34

I think they could. I think every instance of it and you know, what's unfortunate, is that these events, whether they're wildfires or floods or other extreme weather events are now common. And they're happening everywhere and across the country. So from a purely like 'what's going to motivate and mobilize people to change their behavior and demand' action? Yeah, that's there's no doubt those are going to be a stimulant on that kind of behavior and action. But I still, unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, depending on what you're asking about, or how you're framing it. These moments are not severe enough that they're, you know, that's not like the pandemic, which affected everybody, could affect everybody and forced us to all change everything about our lives. I don't think climate change has reached anywhere near that moment yet. And the other thing about it, and this is a defining feature of Canada right now, is that it's a politically divisive issue. There's no issue in Canada that divides the political spectrum, if you're on the conservative side, or the Liberals, the NDP side, is the issue of climate change. And it's not to say conservatives don't believe it's happening or don't fundamentally care about it. They're just not, they're just far, far less likely to put it as a priority. And so there's no consensus on what we do about it, what's the best policy choices, and how fast we need to go? And, and so we're still arguing about these things, which means, as a typical average person watching all of this happen, if the people in charge of making these decisions can't agree, well, then maybe it's not time for me to kind of line up and and do something about it, which I think is what part of the problem right now.

Trevor Freeman  21:23

Yeah, I think it's that divide between the number of people a percentage of the population that really firmly believes and sees this as a problem, like you said, and really knows we need to do something about it, compared to the various amps, which are probably evenly split on what that is, what do we do? It's hard to create policy, and it's hard to create ways forward, when we can agree on what we want to do. Something that I found really interesting, and this is going back a bit, I'm curious, in light of what we were just talking about, whether you see this as changed as there is this overwhelming idea that Canadians want to be seen as environmentally conscious, we want to be seen as leaders in that sustainability, renewable energy field. And I'm thinking about the findings you published back in 2020. So three and a half years ago, now, just the early days of the pandemic. And, you know, I can relate to the idea of Canadians wanting to be seen as virtuous leaders, I was, you know, fresh out of university and traveling the world and you want to put that shiny Canadian image forward. Tell us about that idea of how we want to be seen as, as the leaders and doing the right thing. Where does that come from? What drives that in, in our kind of national ethos? Or am I pulling something that's not there?

David Coletto  22:45

Yeah, no, I think it is there. And I think every country, by the way, there's a nationalism, a pride that, whether you were, you know, like, if you and I asked questions like that, in the UK, you know, Brits will want the UK to be seen as progressive on environmental issues are at least, you know, not seen as like, deeply polluting. And I think, part of the psyche of Canadians and I would say Canadians outside of Alberta and Saskatchewan, because I think those two provinces because of their reliance, and how important the oil and gas sector is, to those economies view this issue differently than, say, folks in Ontario, or Quebec, in particular, is that, you know, Canadians often have this like sense of superiority, certainly, compared to our American friends sound South totally. And the environment is one of those issues that we think we are better, or we should be better. And I shouldn't say we are better, but we believe we should be better. And I like that aspiration. Like, I think there's that desire for us, broadly speaking, to do our part, to be seen as leaders on this issue. But, I mean, I think there's limits to that perspective on then, okay, but are we all looking to, you know, change our behavior or, you know, adopt, you know, get rid of our furnace and put in a heat pump or, you know, change our gas powered vehicles to either a hybrid or an EV? No, we know, that's not happening as fast as it could happen. And so, it's one thing to believe it and want it and it's another thing to do it yourself. That being said, I do think from a public policy perspective, that we do want our leaders to be aspirational to, and to be, you know, looking to, to move the needle. But I think this is where your question about life was three and a half years ago, different from today, three and a half years ago, we didn't have the same mindset. So today if I ask people, What would you rather focus, reducing the cost of living making it easier for people to live their life day to day or relentlessly focusing on reducing emissions and moving to cars? I would say maybe two thirds would say, make my life easier first. And then I can get to the other thing. And so I think the more recent times have probably shifted that perception to some extent, but still want us to be leaders. But you know, they will want policymakers to coerce us into changing our behaviors.

Trevor Freeman  25:18

For sure. So with that in mind, with that context, moving a little bit forward in time, you're a little closer to today. Just last fall, September, you released findings that talked about Canadians' interest in energy efficient housing. So let's get a little bit more granular here. Talk about what Canadians feel about their own homes and what they're looking for.

David Coletto  25:40

Yeah, it was really my colleague, Edie Shepherd who did this research. And we were really interested in understanding particularly given all the conversations about housing affordability and the housing crisis. And you know, that some see as a real opportunity for us, as we build millions of new homes over the next number of years, we should probably be focused on making sure that they're as efficient as they can and, and, and help us tackle our need to reduce emissions and the climate crisis. And I would say that most Canadians 60% say that it's important that the home that they buy next is energy efficient. Very few say it's not important, there's a degree of difference, there's probably some we're gonna be like, I want to make sure it is and there'll be some that will likely say I wish it was but maybe if it costs me a few, you know, 10 grand more, I may not be able to afford it, but my intention is to see that it's there. And what's really interesting is when we asked people okay, you know, why would you want it? What are the upsides? Well, there is a perception that a more efficient owner will save the money. There is a broad understanding that it's going to future proof their home from future increases in the cost of energy. And there's the moral imperative that they think it's important to do it so that we can reduce our impact. Now, what are the barriers while they're the same? It's almost like the upside is the affordability. But the barrier is also affordability half who say, Okay, well, what would prevent you from doing it? Say, well, the upfront cost, the perception of the upfront cost is a big barrier to it. The fear that it may require more maintenance, like if you're putting solar panels on your roof, what does that mean? Do I have to maintain it? Is that going to be more costly? And then there's also a concern about just the availability of the actual energy efficient homes in the places that they live. So what it signals, though, to us is there's an intent, I think that almost everybody understands that it would be better if we all could live in a more energy efficient home. But there's these trade offs, these pushes and poles that I think are completely rational and natural for people to have, but are based on a lot of perceptions that may not be actually rooted into reality.

Trevor Freeman  28:03

Yeah. And it's great, great insight. I wonder, how do we take that? Or what impact does that have on decision making about future policy? And so I'm specifically thinking about, like the caning government's greener homes grant, which was a program to provide people with no interest loans, and in some cases, incentives to upgrade their home with clean technology, let's call it that which is oversubscribed, and they ran out of money. Does this inform policy of what comes next? Is it Is there something in there about helping people connect the dots between we'll lower that upfront cost for you, we'll have a program to lower the upfront cost, you get all those same benefits that you care about the affordability side that, you know, moral side of things to talk to us a little bit about how we connect the dots there.

David Coletto  28:52

Well I mean, the fact that was oversubscribed, as a proof that there's demand out there. That people are willing to do these things, if you lower the barriers to allow them to do it. And the cost is a big one. So and that's normal, and it's good public policy to try to incentivize the behavior you want to see and disincentivize the behavior you don't. So like, my advice to policymakers is, if you think this is important, and I'm no expert on what we have to do to achieve our emission targets and to get this issue under control. But home retrofits and increasing the efficiency of our homes, which I believe in what I've read is a big contributor. Right? Both commercial and residential properties are a big contributor to emissions, so if the incentive isn't an effective and efficient way of doing it, then we should continue to do it because it's clear people will do it. We also see for example, if I just take away from housing and residential energy use, and then I just use EVs as another example. And while there's some debate right now over whether EV demand is going to continue. But there's no doubt that provinces that have been more generous with their rebates for people who buy an electric vehicle, have seen a higher uptake in EVs go back to NBC, outright lead the country. And it's not like it's warmer in Quebec than it is in Ontario. There's a policy decision and choice that was made that has changed people's behavior. So I think we, you know, we, especially at a time when people are feeling that pinch and that squeeze, there's, there's benefit. Now, the problem also is, and this is bringing it back to the public policy lens a little bit as governments have been spending a ton of money. And so there's increased pressure on them to reduce their spending and try to manage their budget a little bit better. But, you know, priorities, I guess I'll say, and for many climate changes should be the, if not the most important thing, at least near the top.

Trevor Freeman  30:58

Yeah, and I guess, I mean, part of, we're kind of going back and forth between talking about climate change in the context of everything, and then, you know, dialing into specific things. If you focus in with people on, you know, within this issue of climate change, what's your barrier to getting a heat pump or an EV? And that affordability might be the upfront cost. But then if you zoom out and look at the more macro lens, you know, should the government be spending money on that, in particular, is that the most important thing for the government to spend money on? Maybe the answer changes, maybe, because then you're looking at it in the context of all those other issues that are also important to people.

David Coletto  31:34

Yeah. And just to drill down even further, in that study we did in September, we asked people in Canada, how interested they would be, and a very specific set of changes they could make to their home. Right things like, you know, high levels of insulation, to LED lighting, to even a geothermal heat pump, which I suspect most people don't really understand the science behind, or know how that would even work. But what we learned is that the vast majority of Canadians are at least open minded about making these changes to their home. So they're not like there's no like, deep, except for a small segment of the population's deep ideological or emotional negativity towards a sustainable behavior. It's just how do you get people over the barriers that exist? In them actually doing it. And cost is one simple understanding, accessibility of the service. And obviously, you know, an organization like hydro Ottawa has a role to play, and you do a big, important role in helping you know, consumers in the city. Think about their energy consumption as you try to help us conserve and be more energy efficient.

Trevor Freeman  32:45

Yeah, for sure, I kind of want to pull on that thread a little bit. So as you noted, like, you know, an organization like Hydro Ottawa, we're kind of on the front lines with our customers, we have that one to one relationship with them. Sometimes all that is just a bill in the mail, but they know that we are involved in energy. And, and we take it upon ourselves, we think it's important to help our customers understand energy, help them understand that, you know, part of the sector. We're going about that, and as we're talking about, especially the energy transition, what does your data mean? What can we learn from that in terms of how we engage and in the messages we bring to our customers? And I'm asking specifically thinking about an article you shared, just last week, which talked about whether carbon pricing as a policy is suffering from a failure to properly communicate. So, you know, that's kind of two pieces there, the Hydro Ottawa piece, as well as that, you know, maybe weaving all together for us.

David Coletto  33:47

Yeah, I mean, I could spend an hour talking to you about, you know, public understanding of, you know, science and climate change and carbon pricing, but the short version is, you have to assume that most people have little understanding of how things work. And I often use the analogy of, of a car and let's use an EV because that's on brand for this conversation, but like most people would know how to drive that EV but they have no understanding of how the energy is produced from the battery and it works to like turn the pistons I don't even know if there's distance in an EV. Right, there's probably not there's not that combustion engine, whatever. I don't need to know that. I just need to know how to drive it. Yeah. And so I think that the lesson there is, and the carbon tax or price is a good example of that. I don't believe that the federal government ever did the work it needed to do to explain to people why. And sometimes it's shocking how little people even understand basic principles like supply and demand that if you raise the price of something, people are going to be disincentivized from buying it or you doing that activity because it costs more. In the case of, you know, carbon price, that's the whole incentive activity that produces emissions, we want to make it more expensive, so people do less of it. But I've done focus groups, you know, years ago. But I don't think there's been a renaissance and understanding where people didn't basically understand why we raised the price of, of carbon or an emission like that. But then you've complicated it by giving that money back, which I think is a good goal, because it's really you're trying to signal a price and trying to get those who consume a lot of energy that produces emissions to reduce that as much as they can. That even in our research, most people who received a rebate, didn't know why they received it. And then when we asked them, okay, well, if this program was eliminated, and keep in mind, the fact is, most Canadians do receive at least close to or as much rebate as they would likely spend from the tax or the price. They thought they would still be better off if that just disappeared. Which tells me that that communication, and not assuming that people, you know, all watch the news or spend a lot of their own time actively looking at information. And even if they are, they may not get good information, because there's so much misinformation out there, that organizations actually have to spend a lot more time explaining and communicating. And look, I think one of the simplest and best things that Hydro Ottawa does as a consumer, as a customer of Hydro Ottawa is like when I can log on online, and you're giving me some insight into what is consuming the energy in my home, right? Like, you're like, you likely use your, you know, washing machine and your dishwasher. And, and that allows me at least to understand the implication of that choice. And if I want to reduce my energy consumption, I suspect most people want to do it because I just want to save money, then you're giving me the power through information to do it. So I think there's a lot of value in communication and just public education. It's really hard for me to say, but I think it is proven to be essential in getting people to change behaviors, away from things they've done for most of their lives.

Trevor Freeman  37:21

Yeah, it's great insight, it's something that we are constantly thinking of is, how do we relate this thing that's important and that everybody would agree is important to people's day to day lives, because they don't spend all the time thinking about it, they've got other things on their mind, other things that are important to focus on. So great insight. I want to zoom out one more time quickly here and talk about, you know, data that you published in 2022, about our energy system as a whole. So the federal government has said by 2035, all electricity production in Canada should be emissions free, on the whole Canadians completely agree. So you have data that says eight and 10 80% of Canadians believe a clean energy system would be more affordable and more secure than a fossil fuel system. I was pleasantly surprised to see that. I'll be honest. Tell us a little bit about that. And what else did you find in that study?

David Coletto  38:17

Well, I think this comes off of obviously, the invasion of Ukraine from Russia, which raised a lot of discussion, not just about the affordability of energy, because of how that conflict, you know, spiked natural gas prices and really hit Europe hard. But also a sense of energy or energy security. And so we wanted to understand, do people recognize and understand the risks actually involved, and the opportunities not just from a purely climate lens, but from an affordability security lens? And this is a really important conversation? Because I think it recognizes that not all people come at an issue with the same perspective, right? If you're somebody who doesn't believe that climate change is an absolute priority, well, then you've got to find another way to get them to behave or change their behavior, or at least agree on an outcome that might be for a different reason, but gets us to the same outcome either way. And I think what we learned from this research is that when you ask people, for example, you know, which do you think is more affordable, a clean energy system that would include hydro, wind, solar power and electric vehicles, or a fossil fuel energy system? So think oil, natural gas, coal, gas powered cars. Two of three, say I think that a clean energy system is going to be more affordable and an almost same number 68% Say, I also think it's going to be more secure. And now, that's not a consensus. I think it's getting close to one. There's still a third of people who say no, no, I think kind of those, those legacy fossil fuel driven systems are both more secure and more affordable. But I wish we had asked this question, you know, 10 years ago, but I suspect if I had, you would have probably seen a complete reversal. Right? Yeah, it would have been the opposite. And so we have seen, I think a change in people's perspective and global events have pushed us there. It just tells me that at this base level of people's understanding and belief that they think if we do everything right, these things will be better for me, and better for our country and better for the world. And that we just need to now deliver and execute on that, I think, as both policy and in the day to the lives that people are experiencing.

Trevor Freeman  40:38

Uh huh. So thinking about the change in technology and the changing landscape, we've talked about how the energy system is changing. We've talked about the impact of the pandemic, and the fact that you and I are, you know, sitting having this conversation over video chat, which is not that common, even four or five years ago. How is that progression and technology, changing the way that you gather data and understand where Canadians are at is disrupting your industry? Like it is other industries?

David Coletto  41:10

Yeah, in every way. I am too young to remember the golden years of market research and survey research. But there was a time when you know, and everybody has a phone, but not everybody answers that phone, when you could call households. And most people, almost everybody would pick up the phone. And then of those who picked up the phone, at least half or so would answer your survey. Now, you know, everybody has a phone, but almost nobody picks it up if they don't know who's calling. And that's forced the industry to respond. How people communicate, and how they don't communicate is tied to how then we can reach them and collect information from them. And so what we've seen in market research is almost an entire shift towards online research. I'll spare you the detailed nerd conversation about how we do that. But I would say most 90% of the research Abacus does, for example, is done online in some way. Whether it's recruiting, you know, the general population, when we do a poll of Canadians through a number of different panels that have recruited people, from time to time take surveys, or whether we're doing employee studies, or customer studies, using lists through email, or text messaging. But what's important is, despite all that change, I think our industry has been pretty good at being able to continue to engage people, response rates dropped, it's like people don't want to share their opinions as much as they used to. So that's a problem for us. And the most important thing as a researcher is to ensure that those who can take part in research are not fundamentally different from those who don't. And I don't think we're there yet. But it's something that- if there's anything that keeps me up at night about research, is that right? Is there going to be a moment when you know, Trevor, I don't know if you answer surveys when you're called or whatever. But if you do, and everybody who does shares the same kind of perspectives, socio economic backgrounds, demographics, and the people who don't answer surveys are completely different. And all those, then the surveys won't be representative, they won't represent the populations we're looking to understand. So yeah, technological change is changing everything. And the big, big thing I've been thinking about is what role does AI play in the market research industry? I think there's going to be a lot of benefits in terms of being able to synthesize large amounts of data, you know, being more efficient. But the impact that it has on how we collect information, I don't think is fully understood yet.

Trevor Freeman  43:42

Anything that's really surprised you and in your research, anything that's really jumped out that you've said, holy smokes, that's not what I expected.

David Coletto  43:49

I think it's - not really I am never I'm rarely surprised these days, because I'm, I'm so inundated and constantly kind of looking at data that you almost you're almost anticipate where things are going before they get there, though, what's interesting to me is that people aren't dumb. And then that's not to say that's surprising. Oh, my God, people aren't dumb. But I think sometimes there's an assumption that, you know, most people - I'm not saying most people are dumb, but they aren't paying attention. And there's a lot of people who don't pay attention to a lot of things. But I do think that most people are thinking about how they reconcile all of the things that are going on in the world and in their life. And I think climate change is now part of the conversation that's regularly there. And that to me is going to make it easier for us to achieve that thing you just said right, that that's the first step in getting people to change their behaviors and to embrace change is for them to recognize that a problem exists. And so step one has been there for a while. And I think that's going to accelerate step two, so I didn't answer your question. She does. I am rarely surprised by her about pretty much anything these days. But I am pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful some most people can be about things if you give them the chance to be.

Trevor Freeman  45:20

Yeah, I totally agree. And I think that's, I guess, aspirationally I like to think, you know, in my part of Hydro Ottawa, and what we do in engaging with customers, it's keeping that in mind and remembering we are trying to understand things in our customers lens, what matters to them. And like I said earlier. You know, my head is in this it's in, it's going through the lens of energy all the time. And that's not the case for everybody. So keeping in mind that yeah, people are diligent and paying attention and thinking about things that are important to them. And that just may be slightly different from the rest of us. So to kind of wrap it up here, we typically end with a series of questions that we asked most of our guests. So I'm going to fire the match here and see what you think. You're on the receiving end now of data gathering, I guess you can say. What's a book that you've read that you think everybody should read?

David Coletto  46:16

Oh, man, I read like eight books at once. And so remembering what I'm reading? Oh, that's a tough question for me.

Trevor Freeman  46:26

But what's a book that you've read in the last month that you think everyone should read down? I'll narrow it down for you?

David Coletto  46:31

I think, okay, it's not in the last month. I'll start by answering that, okay. So a book that I think helps explain so much of the world right now is called Prius or Pickup. It's by two American political scientists. But it's not like a nerdy academic thick book. And it basically argues that there are two primary worldviews, but they are fixed and fluid, and that so much of the political division in the United States, but so much of the consumer behavior we see, is affected by that worldview. So Prius and Pickup are like the choice between vehicles. And it changed my thinking around persuasion about communication, because it basically argues that most people, and I think it's true in Canada as it is in the US, or anywhere else around the world, start a journey with a particular base assumption about the world. And if you understand those assumptions, you then understand how to persuade them.

Trevor Freeman  47:36

Very cool. Is there a movie or a show that you've watched recently that you would recommend everyone take a look at?

David Coletto  47:43

Hmm well, I love Succession. It's been a while since it ended, but if you haven't seen it, it's brilliant TV. It makes you mad. You hate all the characters, but there's something really compelling about the writing. I really love that. And then my guilty pleasure is Curb Your Enthusiasm, which and it's in its final season right now, as we record this.

Trevor Freeman  48:09

Awesome. I can't agree more with both of those. If someone offered you a free round trip, anywhere in the world, where would you go?

David Coletto  48:18

I am a cyclist. And I usually travel with my bike. Road cyclist. So anywhere in the world, I would say, you know, I think because I have never been I would love to go to places like New Zealand or Australia and explore on two wheels, either of those places. And yeah, that's where I go.

Trevor Freeman  48:40

Cool. Who's someone that you admire?

David Coletto  48:43

Oh, man. Good question. Dude, why admire? So many? It's like, what do I -  how do I frame this? These are hard questions. If you know what, recently I had someone who's like, actively involved in politics, in terms of like, public opinion, and being part of that conversation. I increasingly admire anybody, anybody, and I'm not going to pay any political support like partisan brushes or political parties, anyone who puts their name forward to run for political office these days. I admire that because it is a thankless and difficult job. And whether it's our Mayor or Premier or Prime Minister, you can disagree on the decisions they're making, you can dislike them as people if you want. But yeah, I think we should admire the fact that they have chosen to do something that is a pretty horrible job.

Trevor Freeman  49:38

Yeah, well said. And finally, is there anything kind of about the energy sector, its future that you're particularly excited about, or really keenly interested in?

David Coletto  49:50

I am an eternal optimist about human ingenuity. I'm not somebody who thinks like the end is coming and it's all going to go to hell. I actually think that we will find, and we have probably found the solutions that are going to help solve this problem. And so what excites me the most I think is, you know, I am excited for the day. I really am when I step on an airplane that is entirely powered by a non emitting fuel of some sort. I don't know when that's going to be, I don't know how long it's going to take. But I think if we achieve that, then I think we will have solved a lot of the other things and I I don't think it's that far away.

Trevor Freeman  50:29

I mean, as your bio says, infinitely curious, passionate and eternally optimistic. I think that that sums it up pretty well. David Coletto, this has been a fantastic conversation. I really appreciate you coming on.  I really appreciate the conversation too, Trevor. Thanks for having me. Thanks. Take care. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, and it would be great if you could leave us a review. It really helps us spread the word. As always, we would love to hear from you. Whether it's feedback, comments or an idea for a show or guests. You can always reach us at [email protected]