Even in the country that is the developed world’s most decentralized federation, and in spite of the tendency in some regions to trust provinces rather than the federal government to set energy policy, a comprehensive survey of Canadians’ attitudes to federalism has detected strong support in almost every province for a single, national climate policy.
“On balance,” write Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research, “the survey results offer more reassurance to federal political leaders than to those who are currently pushing back against them on the issue of how best to address climate change.”
Parkin’s post yesterday in Policy Options draws on the Confederation of Tomorrow 2019 Survey of Canadians, conducted in December and January by Environics and five other organizations.
Parkin puts Canadians’ views on climate policy in the wider context of their attitudes to federalism, noting that “Canadians are not instinctively wedded to the notion that the solution to all problems lies in Ottawa”: While only 17% would like to see greater authority handed to the federal government, 36%—and about 50% each in Alberta and Quebec—would support further decentralization. He lists three provinces—Alberta, Quebec, and Saskatchewan—where about 40% trust their provincial governments over Ottawa to manage energy resources, and four—the original three plus Newfoundland and Labrador—that are most likely to want energy policies set at the provincial level.
“It is all the more striking, then, that on the specific issue of climate change, there is relatively weak public support for a province-first approach,” he writes. “Only 12% of Canadians trust their provincial government more to make the right decisions when it comes to addressing climate change. More than twice as many (29%) trust the federal government more, and almost three times as many trust both governments equally. About one in five (19%) trust neither government.”
Apart from Saskatchewan, the survey results show little difference in attitude among Canadians in the provinces that are challenging the federal carbon tax in court, and those that are not.
Parkin adds that “views on who should lead on climate change do not necessarily line up with views on how energy resources are managed within the federation. In Alberta, 42% trust the province more on energy, but only 14% trust the province more on climate change; in Quebec, the figures are 36% and 14%, respectively. Even the decentralists in the country lean more to Ottawa than to their province on climate change: among those Canadians who want to see a shift of power from the federal to their provincial government, only 19% trust their province more to make the right decisions on addressing climate change, compared with 26% who trust the federal government more, and 32% who trust both equally.”
The survey found that 48% wanted a single, national climate policy, compared to 30% who supported a patchwork of provincial and territorial plans.
The results add up to two major takeaways for the design of Canadian climate policy.
“In the first instance, relatively few Canadians trust their province more on this issue (although many trust both their federal and provincial governments equally), and Canadians on the whole are more likely to favour a federal policy to address climate change that applies across the country than separate provincial ones,” Parkin concludes.
“Secondly, the potential for a broad alliance of premiers in opposition to a federal policy is tempered by the fact that, for Quebecers, definitive action on climate change appears to trump their usual decentralized approach to issues management within the federation.”