Canadian voters like carbon initiatives but not paying for them, poll finds

New data released by the Public Policy Forum’s Digital Democracy Project suggests Canadian voters rank the environment second only to the economy in terms of their top political issues, and that there is widespread support among the electorate for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Support drops off pretty sharply, however, when voters are asked to actually do something about it.

The environment and climate change are expected to be central issues in the upcoming federal election campaign. The Liberal government has brought in a carbon levy of $20 per tonne of emissions this year, rising to $50 per tonne in 2022. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has attempted to walk a line between action on climate change and support for the country’s natural resources sector, notably through the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

A full 74 per cent of respondents said they’re in favour of Canada reducing emissions, with the most popular policy tool being renewable energy subsidies (72 per cent). A majority (57 per cent) support increased regulations to cut down on pollution.

The bad news is that increasing the price on carbon — the Liberals’ signature environmental policy — is a “non-starter” for a large segment of the Canadian electorate, according to the report’s authors. Only 36 per cent said they would support increasing the carbon tax.

The survey also tested how sensitive Canadians are to increases in the carbon price by asking how willing they were to pay a little more at the gas pump. Respondents were broken up into three groups — one group told a carbon tax would increase the cost of gasoline by five cents a litre, another group by 10 cents, and the final group by 15 cents.

The survey also studied the Twitter conversations of approximately 950 political candidates, 450 journalists covering politics, 300 third-party groups, and members of the general public using political hashtags like #cdnpoli or #elxn43.

While 20 per cent of respondents ranked the economy as the most important political issues, followed by health care and the environment, those topics received little discussion by political journalists. Instead, journalists (and political candidates) mostly focused on ethics — likely due to parliamentary watchdog finding that Trudeau broke ethics laws in the SNC-Lavalin affair.