Majority of Canadians want climate plan that keeps regional economies strong, poll suggests

A majority of Canadians believe that when it comes to developing a strategy to fight climate change, a top priority should be ensuring all regions of the country benefit from a strong economy, a new survey suggests.

But the study also indicates there are notable differences between regions as to whether meeting international greenhouse gas reduction targets, or preventing job losses in the oil and gas industry, should be a priority.

Meeting the targets ranks more highly in the rest of the country than in oil-producing provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. On the other hand, the Environics Institute poll found that preventing oilpatch job losses was a lower priority in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia.

“These differences are not ones that pit the West against the rest of the country, as some of the biggest differences of opinion on this question lie within the West itself,” says the Confederation of Tomorrow survey, prepared for a group of six public policy think tanks that conduct an annual survey on a variety of issues. 

The consortium includes the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the Canada West Foundation and the Institute for Research on Public Policy, among others.

The study includes a survey of 5,814 Canadians conducted online in the provinces between Jan. 25 and Feb. 17, and online and by phone in the territories between Jan. 25 and March 1.

The poll asked respondents to rank a list of 10 objectives as a “high,” “medium,” “low” or “not a priority at all” for Canada, when developing a strategy to fight climate change.

At the top of the list, 62 per cent of those polled ranked “ensuring that all regions of Canada benefit from a strong economy” as a high priority, followed by “keeping taxes low” at 46 per cent.

Making sure Canadian businesses stay competitive with the U.S. was third, with 45 per cent deeming it a high priority.

In fourth, 41 per cent of respondents said it should be a high priority for Canada to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets it agreed to in international agreements like the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

“But there are significant regional differences as to the priority that should be accorded to meeting international greenhouse gas reduction targets, or to preventing job losses in the oil and gas industry,” the report said.

Overall, preventing job losses in the oil and gas industry was ranked as a high priority by 31 per cent of respondents, but with pronounced regional differences.

“These results expose the conundrum that lies at the heart of the issues of climate change and energy resource management in Canada,” the study says.

“In principle, Canadians in all parts of the country wish to see the economy in each region thrive as the country combats climate change.

“In practice, many of those areas more dependent on the oil and gas industry believe that this includes protecting jobs in this sector, while many Canadians in other parts of the country are less sure.”

The survey found those most likely to agree that protecting oil and gas jobs should be a high priority in plans to fight climate change were from the North (51 per cent), Alberta (44 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador (41 per cent).

Those least likely to agree were residents of Quebec (22 per cent), Manitoba (26 per cent) and B.C. (28 per cent).

“This is a tough country to govern because these different priorities are real — and they’re based on very different and very real contexts,” Colleen Collins, vice-president of the Canada West Foundation, said in an interview.

“I think that is the challenge of running Canada, fundamentally.”

Nationally, respondents appear evenly split on whether protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs, with 46 per cent agreeing that protecting the environment is more important, while 45 per cent disagree.

Half of respondents would support a “gradual” phase-out of fossil fuels as a way to combat climate change so those who work in industries like oil and gas aren’t suddenly put out of work.

On the other hand, less than a fifth — 17 per cent — support an approach that would phase out fossil fuel use “as quickly as possible” even if that meant putting people out of a job.

Nineteen per cent of those polled favour protecting the jobs of people who work in industries like oil and gas, and not worrying so much about phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research, said the poll shows that while there are differences, Canadians are not necessarily as divided as they might think.

“When we talk about priorities in developing the strategy to fight climate change, the No. 1 choice in each part of the country … is addressing climate change in a way that still keeps the economy of every region of the country strong,” Parkin said in an interview.

He said it’s also important to remember not to lean on stereotypes, as not all Albertans or Quebecers think one way.

“If we stand back from it [we] realize that these are difficult issues for everyone to work through,” Parkin said.

“Finding a way to balance environmental and economic priorities — if it was simple, we would have done it already. And so recognizing that we’re all kind of in this conundrum and in this common journey together,I think that could be helpful, including recognizing that there’s differences everywhere.”

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