The majority of Canadians believe a national climate plan must nurture strong economies across the country, but there are sharp regional differences on how that plan should be carried out, the latest Confederation of Tomorrow survey shows.
The report, conducted annually by the Environics Institute for Survey Research and five other policy think tanks, offers an annual snapshot of public opinion on major policy issues, including how the country should be addressing the climate crisis. This year’s survey contacted 5,814 Canadians by phone and email between January 25 and March 1.
While the pandemic eclipses all other concerns in the 2021 edition, the survey still found that “most Canadians remain supportive of policies to address climate change, including the eventual phasing out of the use of fossil fuels in favour of more renewable sources of energy.”
Predictably, the largest avalanche of concern was the pandemic (52%), followed by the economy and unemployment (13%), “poor government leadership/Trudeau” (9%), poverty and inequality (6%), and health care and mental health (5%). Only 3% of those polled named the climate crisis as Canada’s most pressing problem.
At 62%, nearly two-thirds of respondents said a national climate plan should ensure “all regions of Canada benefit from a strong economy.” Next in line was “keeping taxes low,” at 46%, and ensuring that Canadian businesses remain competitive with American ones, at 45%.
But despite relatively high support for low taxes and business-promoting policies, concern about the heavy hand of government was scant. “Minimizing government interference in the free-market economy is either the lowest or second-lowest priority in each region,” write the report authors.
The country’s international climate commitments were a priority for 41% of survey respondents, though there were “significant regional differences” in how those commitments should be met. While 31% of respondents nationally urged protection of oil and gas jobs, there was much stronger agreement in the North (51%), Alberta (44%), and Newfoundland and Labrador (41%), considerably less in British Columbia (28%), Manitoba (25%), and Quebec (22%).
While northerners were most concerned about protecting oil and gas jobs, they also expressed strong agreement “with the notion that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs.”
Half of Canadians supported a gradual fossil fuel phaseout in order to ease job transitions, with only 17% saying fossil fuel use be phased out “as quickly as possible,” regardless of the impact on the oil patch. About one-fifth favoured “not worrying so much” about phasing out the use of fossil fuels and instead focusing on protecting oil and gas jobs.
While Canada is often considered to be politically split between east and west, the report authors said the division on jobs versus climate was more pronounced within the western region—and within each province. “Some of the biggest differences of opinion on this question lie within the west itself (for example, between Alberta, on the one hand, and Manitoba and B.C., on the other),” states the report.
The report says one in three Canadians trust the federal government more to make the right decisions in addressing climate change, while just over one in four trust Ottawa and their provincial or territorial government equally. One-fifth declared a distrust for all governments.
“Since 2019, the proportion trusting the federal government more to make the right decisions in addressing climate change has increased in each of the provinces at the forefront of the court challenge to the federal policy on carbon pricing,” the report authors state, with the greatest increase in trust occurring in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The number of Albertans willing to trust Ottawa more on energy “has tripled since 2019.”