“Canadians need to be wary” of Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre’s anti-climate action stance, the Globe and Mail warns in a recent editorial, while a leading national climate analyst suggests Poilievre’s failure to embrace smart environmental policy can do a lot of harm—especially to his own electoral prospects.
At the moment, the Conservatives are polling 10 to 14 percentage points ahead of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and closing in on a majority of seats in the House of Commons in 338Canada’s latest vote projection. They’ve just concluded a weekend policy conference and reported huge fundraising totals for the first half of the year, while news analysts point to deep fatigue with a now eight-year-old government.
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The Globe writes that Poilievre’s policy promises include an “axe the tax” vow on consumer carbon pricing, an increase in fossil fuel production, and weaker environmental reviews of new industrial projects. “He’s betting his pitch will resonate widely enough to win an election.”
And the data and punditry suggest it just might.
Gas Prices Could Drive Voter Decisions
Climate and the environment remain priorities for Canadian voters, but so do concerns about livelihoods and the cost of living. ‘Environment’ was listed as the top issue of national concern in a Nanos poll [pdf] this month, but it was closely followed by ‘inflation’ and ‘jobs/economy’, two categories that are closely aligned if not indistinguishable. Combined, they would outrank the percentage of respondents listing ‘environment’ as their top priority.
A weak climate platform was widely believed to have contributed to the Tories’ narrow loss in the last election. But this time around, the Globe’s editorial board speculates that Poilievre’s anti-climate stance may give him an edge if the taxes in Canada’s federal climate policies are perceived to be too big a burden on voters.
“In 2024, the carbon tax on gasoline rises to 18 cents a litre. In 2025, it’ll be 21 cents,” the Globe says. “That’s about $12 on every fill-up of a 60-litre tank. Even with quarterly cheques from Ottawa to households in provinces like Ontario to cover such costs, the ever-higher price won’t go unnoticed like it was in the past.”
Young Voters Care About Equity, Poverty
At the same time, support from younger generations is also moving towards the Conservatives (or at least away from the Liberals), reports Abacus Data. They hold the lead across all generations—including Gen Z voters who were born from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s. The NDP is pulling more votes on the left, so if an election were held today among the two youngest generations, Gen Z and Millennials, “the Liberals would fall to third party status.”
Though environmental polices rank high among all voters, that emphasis is noticeably higher among millennials and older generations. By comparison, Gen Z voters are more likely to prioritize social issues like inequality and poverty, with one in four placing the topic among their top three issues. Gen Z and Millennials are also much more likely to see Indigenous reconciliation as a top issue for Canada.
“On all their top issues (aside from climate change), Gen Z says the Conservatives or NDP are best poised to address the issue, with the Conservative party best suited to address their economic concerns and the NDP best positioned to address the social issues they deem important,” Abacus says.
A recent episode of the Backbench podcast showed how Gen Zers may also be less interested in partisan politics. Guests on the podcast expressed varying levels of disillusionment and frustration with the political climate, polarization, and government processes. At the same time, the conversations indicated that this generation is very politically active and finding other ways to engage with issues through grassroots action.
“In Canada, we technically have a multi-party system, but traditionally—in terms of looking at just the trends of political history—only two parties have held political office,” one young person told the Backbench. “Federally, I personally don’t see myself fitting neatly within either of those two parties. And I feel like a lot of people within my generation would probably agree with that.”
Poilievre’s Missed Opportunity
The Globe says Canada has made at least some progress on climate emissions under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. “Emissions in the oil and gas industry, for example, peaked eight years ago and have since fallen 7%, even as output rose,” the paper says. “Canada is still a long way from its goal to cut all emissions by 40% by 2030, but it’s made more progress than ever before.”
And Clean Energy Canada Executive Director Mark Zacharias writes that Poilievre’s gains in the polls may be jeopardized by his climate policies.
“Setting aside for a moment the fact that most Canadian voters want their government to both act on climate change and prepare Canada’s economy to compete in a world moving away from fossil fuels, there’s another reason to pay attention to the global economic transition toward a cleaner economy: self-preservation,” he writes.
Poilievre—who relies on claims that climate action will make life less affordable for Canadians—may be getting through to voters. But Zacharias says it’s a weak strategy that ignores the successes of other conservatives who’ve aligned climate policy with economic benefits.
“Successful conservative leaders understand that climate action is economic action,” he writes, citing examples like former German chancellor Angela, who led the country into its green energy transition, and former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell, who introduced North America’s first revenue-neutral, economy-wide carbon tax.
He does not mention other conservatives who have done very well with anti-climate strategies, like United States Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), one of the most influential U.S. senators in recent history. For the most part, the U.S. Senate’s conservative members are a climate-denial success story.
But “two-term republican California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger created the U.S.’s first state economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions and the nation’s first legislated emission reduction targets,” Zacharias reminds us.
“The story here is that successful conservative leaders understand that climate action is economic action,” he writes. “The math backs this up: between 2010 and 2019, 18 nations, many under conservative leaders, have driven down emissions while growing their economies, according to a recent United Nations study.”
The net result, Zacharias says, is that “the next federal election will be fought over affordability—but also over Canada’s economic future.”