FIRST READING: Canadians appear to have stopped caring about climate change

Once a critical factor in elections, polls now show Canadians just want to be able to afford things

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In a recent Angus Reid Institute survey, Canadians were asked which political party they would prefer to manage the country’s climate change file. The winner was the Conservative Party of Canada; 28 per cent wanted the Tories, against 14 per cent who wanted the Liberal status quo.

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What’s more, respondents were endorsing a version of the Conservative Party that has very explicitly not prioritized climate change. The Conservatives under leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole were very careful about stressing to the electorate that they cared about rising emissions and had a viable plan to bring them down.

Poll results on best party to lead on climate change.

But under Poilievre, there are no emissions targets and and he hasn’t released a climate change strategy. The party’s chief issue is abolishing the carbon tax, and whenever someone asks what policy will replace it, the Tory answer is “technology.”

“Small modular nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, tidal wave power and other emissions-free energy … get the government out of the way and speed up approvals to green-light green projects,” said Poilievre earlier this month.

And if polls are to be believed, none of this is holding back the Tories’ massive surge in popularity. After years of received wisdom that a Conservative could not become Canadian prime minister without an aggressive emissions plan, Poilievre is on course for one of the biggest landslides in the country’s history.

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It’s just the latest sign that — after years of Canadians ranking climate change as one of their most pressing national issues — they suddenly seem to have lost interest.

When Trudeau was first elected prime minister in 2015, one of the Liberal Party’s strongest issues — and the one which they statistically had one of the largest mandates — was the issue of emissions reduction.

In the lead-up to the vote, an Angus Reid Institute poll found that 56 per cent of Canadians were frustrated that the Canadian government had not spent enough attention on climate change. One fifth of all respondents, meanwhile, reported that the climate would be a “deciding factor” in their vote.

Shortly after Trudeau’s victory, a Nanos poll found 73 per cent agreeing that “climate change presents a significant threat to our economic future.” Respondents even thought it had diplomatic consequences, with 79 per cent saying that Canada’s “international reputation” had been harmed by a lacklustre emissions reduction policy.

As to what’s changed in the last eight years, the main reason is likely that the country has been blindsided by a suite of affordability crises. Rent has reached all-time highs — and is still surging by an average of $175 per month. All the while, wages have been in decline for years and are on course for 40 years of sustained stagnation.

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Now, when Canadians are asked to rank their top concerns, the top spot is a duel between “economy” and “cost of living” — with climate change lucky if it can crack the top five.

This is even true of young people; the one demographic that can usually be trusted to worry about the environment. In August, an Abacus Data survey of voters aged 18 to 27 found that the top concern, as picked by 73 per cent of respondents, was “the rising cost of living.” In fifth place — with just 29 per cent of respondents pegging it as a top three issue — was “climate change.”

Top issues among voters aged 18 to 27.
Top three issues among Canadian voters aged 18 to 27. Photo by Abacus Data

Canadians have also been increasingly asked to pay for their opinions on climate change. Carbon pricing was broadly popular when Trudeau took office; one survey had 56 per cent of Canadians supporting a price on emissions. As support has dwindled, it’s dropped in almost perfect tandem with the rate of Canadians actually paying the carbon tax.

This was most dramatic in Atlantic Canada, where good feelings on carbon pricing screeched to a halt on July 1 when it became the country’s last region added to the federal carbon pricing scheme.

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None of this is to say that Canadians do not believe in climate change, or doubt that it’s the result of human-caused emissions. When queried on the basic science of the phenomenon, a rising share of Canadians think it’s a problem. But the sentiment appears to be that most Canadians don’t want to personally assume any measurable sacrifice or cost.

An Ipsos survey from September hinted at this odd duality. More than 60 per cent of respondents said that “the government” and “corporations” should do more to fight climate change, but large proportions also wanted affordability to take priority. “Yes, there is increased urgency to fight climate change, but there also is increased urgency to battle the affordability crisis that we’re seeing in Canada,” Ipsos Vice President of Public Affairs Sean Simpson told Global at the time.

That new Angus Reid Institute survey mentioned in the introduction asked this question as bluntly as it could, and the results were decisive.

On the statement, “cost of living concerns should come first, even if it damages policies to fight climate change,” 63 per cent said they agreed.

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Poll results on whether economy should take precedent over environment.

IN OTHER NEWS

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Protest inside Scotiabank
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