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#Elxn44: Voters Focus on Climate, Cost of Living as Federal Campaign Gets Under Way

Within hours of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s visit to Rideau Hall Sunday to trigger a September 20 snap election, the climate emergency began to emerge as a top vote-determining issue in the 36-day campaign.

While pollsters warned that the campaign is still young, and other concerns could still dominate, environmental protection and climate showed up as the top issue in a web-based Léger poll conducted August 11-12, le Journal de Québec reports, with 42% of 1,615 respondents listing it as a priority. Economy and job creation placed second, at 38%, followed by the pandemic at 35%, balanced budget and debt at 30%, and taxes at 28%.

Earlier this month, based on a survey it conducted for the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, Abacus Data reported that 52% of Canadians were extremely or quite concerned about climate change, and three in 10 had become more concerned after several weeks of heat waves and fires. Eight in 10 thought climate change would affect their personal health, and 35% said they were also seeing the direct impacts of poor air quality and heightened risk of floods, wildfires, or severe storms.

“For the past few years, concern about climate change has been growing and intensifying,” said Abacus CEO David Coletto. “More frequent extreme weather events have put a spotlight on the impact of climate change and are expanding the lens by which people assess the risk of it. The impact on personal health is one area.”

Yesterday, Abacus identified affordability and the cost of living as the top campaign issue, at 62%, with climate and environment placing third at 46%.

In British Columbia, where fire crews and residents are up against another summer season of wildfires, heat, and stifling air quality, an Angus Reid poll released over the weekend had 45% listing environment and climate as a priority, CBC writes. “Every year there’s been some sort of impact with fire, smoke, but I haven’t seen anything this devastating,” said Osooyos hotel owner Phil Elliott, a former Conservative supporter who said his vote will be determined by parties” climate and environment policies.

“I’m probably going to be looking at a party that best represents those values,” Elliott told the national broadcaster, “that will not take me back to the ’50s and ’60s fossil fuels mentality that I don’t want to see.”

Angus Reid Institute President Shachi Kurl said the climate vote is still up for grabs, as voters try to sort out which party will best reflect their concern. “Forty per cent of Canadians either say they’re not sure which leader is best on climate change or say none of them are,” he told CBC.

Last month, an Ipsos poll for Global News found that the summer wave of heat, drought, and wildfires sweeping the country had given them a heightened sense of urgency about the climate crisis. “People are very aware of climate change,” said Darrell Bricker, the polling company’s CEO of Global Public Affairs, in response to the online survey conducted July 19-20.

For younger voters, he added, “climate change has become one of those existential issues of our age—and there’s a unanimity among younger people as to the importance of the issue and the need to do something about it.” The next challenge “will be moving from simple ways of raising awareness to actually showing people how they can make a difference.”

The need to do just that came through loud and clear in Politico Canada’s Ottawa Playbook newsletter, which is publishing daily during the campaign. Reporter Nick Taylor-Vaisey opened his election coverage in Lytton, the B.C. town that burned to the ground in a wildfire July 1 after enduring record heat.

“Every service provider—the bank, hospital, and fire hall—went up in smoke,” he writes. “Many residents will see insurance cover their losses,” but “some are underinsured. No one is sure exactly how long it’ll take to rebuild.”

So “when politicians on the campaign trail name-check the disaster zone, there’s something they’ll leave out. No one here is thinking about a federal election.”

Global News has set up an online tracker for the five major parties’ climate promises, though the listing was still mostly incomplete as The Energy Mix went to virtual press yesterday.

Climate groups wasted no time gearing up for a lightning-fast campaign. The David Suzuki Foundation launched an environmental voters’ pledge, and Shake Up the Estab opened an “urgent campaign” focused on youth voters. One Earth/One Vote encouraged supporters to get their voter registration cards, talk to friends and family about voting, “ask the tough questions” on climate and environment, and get involved with the campaign, while Ecojustice connected supporters to the Elections Canada voter database.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment is urging its members to host an all-candidates’ debate as part of GreenPAC’s 100 Debates for the Environment September 8-9, and to engage with candidates on three issues: reforming the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, phasing out fossil fuels with a well-planned transition, and ending thermal coal exports.

Within minutes of Trudeau’s long-awaited announcement, 350 Canada was out with an email connecting the election campaign to climate advocacy. “This will be an election in the middle of a climate emergency. The stakes couldn’t be higher,” wrote communications and strategy manager Cam Fenton.

“This will be the first election to take place under blood red, smoke-covered skies with dozens of communities on evacuation alert due to climate-driven wildfires,” he added. “And, it’s kicking off just one week after the IPCC released another sobering report that was described as a ‘code red for humanity’ to up our climate ambition.”

In a separate release, 350’s Climate Emergency Alliance identified a half-dozen swing ridings where at least three-quarters of potential voters see climate as a somewhat or very important issue, and one in three “would consider switching their vote to another candidate or party in order to elect a climate champion in their riding.”