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‘Stunning’ Poll Results Show Canadian Public ‘Ahead of Our Politics’ on Climate Action

Two-thirds to 84% of Canadians would accept bold measures to address climate change, more than four-fifths see the climate crisis as a serious problem, 47% consider it extremely serious, and one in four “report thinking about climate change often and are getting really anxious about it,” according to a new Abacus Data poll commissioned by Seth Klein, an adjunct professor of urban studies at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University.

The result follows a Mainstreet poll last month in which 61% of Canadians said they would support government action on climate change, even if it carried an economic cost.

The Abacus data show that “the public is ahead of our politics,” Klein writes. “A large share of Canadians are already deeply worried about the climate crisis, and they are increasingly ready for bold and ambitious actions.” The survey showed strong to decisive support for a half-dozen policy initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: phasing out coal-, gas-, and oil-fired electricity by 2030, banning sale of all new gas-powered vehicles by 2030, requiring all buildings to decarbonize their fuel supplies by 2040, phasing out all fossil fuel extraction in the next 20 to 30 years, requiring all new buildings to use electricity for space and water heating by 2022, and shifting all government fleets to electric vehicles in the next five years.

“These results are quite stunning,” Klein writes. “As of yet, no federal or provincial government in Canada has been prepared to move this ambitiously. Yet the results show that when one combines ‘strongly support’, ‘support’, and ‘can accept’, we find the public’s willingness to get behind bold actions to reduce greenhouse gases range from a low of 67% to a high of 84%.”

With 82% of poll respondents rating it as a serious or extremely serious problem, Abacus found that climate change rated second only to the rising cost of living, at 90%, as a top-tier public policy issue. “More striking, 47% of Canadians rated climate change as an extremely serious problem, 15 points higher than wealth or income inequality, 23 points higher than increasing automation of work and the loss of good-paying jobs, and more than double the number who felt increasing immigration to Canada was an extremely serious problem.”

The poll found that Canadians aged 18 to 29 and people from Quebec are most likely to think about climate change often and get very anxious about it. While “Albertans are the least anxious,” Abacus notes, 58% “say they are either anxious and thinking about it all the time, or think about it sometimes but are becoming increasingly worried about what impact it will have.” Some 42% of respondents said climate change is an emergency, and another 20% said it will reach that state in the next few years.

Klein’s commentary focuses in part on the “can accept” group who didn’t support bold climate action, but didn’t rule it out. “My take is that these are people who are still unsure of how ambitious we can be, but with the right kind of leadership—the kind of bold leadership Canada saw in the Second World War—they could be brought along,” he writes. Overall, 57% felt the federal government is doing too little to combat climate change, while 75% support or strongly support the idea of “our governments making massive investments in new green infrastructure, such as renewable energy (solar panel fields, wind farms, geothermal energy, tidal energy), building retrofits, high-speed rail, mass public transit, and electric vehicle charging stations, as well as reforestation.”

The overall results indicate that “the more a bold and transformative climate plan is seen as linked to an ambitious plan to tackle inequality, economic insecurity, poverty and job creation, the more likely people are to support it,” Klein adds. “In addition to people’s concerns about climate change, they are also very worried about inequality and affordability. So when these social equity issues are tackled as part of a climate action plan, support for bold action to reduce GHG emissions rises dramatically.”

Only 14% of poll respondents had heard of the Pact for a Green New Deal and 19% thought they might have, Abacus reports. But the idea received strong backing from people who knew about it, and slightly stronger support from those who heard about it for the first time from the researchers.