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National survey: Westerners support measures to address climate change, but differ on how quickly to act

The survey finds that Canadians in every part of the country—including Saskatchewan and Alberta—lean toward a balanced approach to addressing climate change that involves a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels while ensuring that people who work in the oil and gas sector are not suddenly put out of work.

SASKATOON – Researchers from the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and the University of Regina (U of R) have collaborated with leading public policy organizations across the country to release the third report from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey of Canadians. 

The survey finds that Canadians in every part of the country—including Saskatchewan and Alberta—lean toward a balanced approach to addressing climate change that involves a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels while ensuring that people who work in the oil and gas sector are not suddenly put out of work. But the minority that prefers a slower approach that focuses more on protecting jobs in the oil and gas sector is much larger in Saskatchewan and Alberta than in Manitoba or B.C.

There is also greater polarization on the issue within both Saskatchewan and Alberta than elsewhere. Differences between those on the left and right of the political spectrum as to how best to address climate are much larger in these two provinces than in any other. 

The survey also found that, while there has been very little change over the past two years in views on how best to address climate change, there has been some shift in support on the issue in favour of the federal government. This is particularly true in provinces whose provincial governments have been most vocally opposed to the federal stance on carbon pricing. Since 2019, the proportion trusting the federal government more to address climate change has increased by 12 points in Saskatchewan (from 22 to 34 per cent), and by 17 points in Alberta (from 19% to 36%).

“It is not surprising that the findings from the survey tell us that climate change is an issue that not only divides Canadians by region but also by party affiliation within regions,” said Dr. Margot Hurlbert (PhD), JSGS professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy and Sustainability Policy. “But surprisingly it’s not a West against the rest response—we are seeing great divides within the West. On one hand, Albertans place greater importance on protecting the oil and gas sector, than on meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets, and on the other, residents in British Columbia and Manitoba have opposing views. Further to this, and even more surprisingly, we are seeing that in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario, the proportion of respondents trusting the federal government more to make the right decision in addressing climate change has increased since 2019.” 

As climate change remains at the forefront of the public agenda, the issue of the environment has become more partisan—and thus more divisive and polarized. The difference in views of environmental leaders between supporters of the federal governing and opposition parties, for instance, is much wider today than it was two decades ago. 

“There are important differences of opinion among Canadians on environmental issues, but these differences exist within the West and within individual provinces such as Saskatchewan and Alberta,” says Dr. Andrew Parkin, executive director at the Environics Institute. “Recognizing the diversity of perspectives within the region could contribute to a more constructive public discussion of these important issues in the coming years.” 

Report highlights include:

  • 46% of Canadians agree that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs, while 45% disagree. In most provinces, the proportion agreeing that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs is relatively close to the national average, with two exceptions: agreement is noticeably higher than average in Nova Scotia (55%), and noticeably lower in Alberta (36%).
  • Agreement that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs is lowest among supporters of the Conservative Party (26%) and highest among the Green Party (68%), Liberal Party (58%), NDP (57%), and Bloc Québécois (45%).
  • 50% of Canadians support a gradual phase-out of the use of fossil fuels so that people who work in industries like oil and gas are not suddenly put out of work. Whereas, 17% support an approach that would phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, regardless of the impact on sector employment, and 19% favour protecting sector jobs without worrying as much about phasing out the use of fossil fuels.
  • Quebec was the only province where the second most popular option, after that of gradually phasing out the use of fossil fuels, is that of phasing out the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible (27%). In every other part of the country, respondents were more concerned with job security as their second most popular option (low of 18% in Ontario and a high of 34% in Saskatchewan and 40% in Alberta).
  • In Alberta, a clear majority of supporters (68%) of the provincial UCP favour “not worrying so much about phasing out fossil fuels,” whereas very few provincial NDP supporters (13%) favour this option. In Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Party-NDP difference is 35 points (47% to 12%).
  • Meeting international greenhouse gas reduction targets are among the top four priorities in each region when developing a strategy to fight climate change, with the notable exceptions of Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
  • The proportion trusting the federal government more to make the right decisions in addressing climate change has increased since 2019 in each of the provinces at the forefront of the challenge to the federal carbon pricing policy—Saskatchewan (22% to 34%), Alberta (19% to 36%), and Ontario (35% to 40%).
  • In Alberta, the proportion trusting the federal government more in managing energy resources has tripled since 2019, from seven to 21%. In Saskatchewan, the change is more modest from 12% to 18%. That said Albertans and Saskatchewanians remain much more likely to trust provincial governments in managing energy resources, although the gap between confidence in Ottawa and the province has narrowed over the past two years.
  • 84% of respondents expressed a high degree of confidence in scientists, 57% have a lot or some degree of confidence in journalists, and 52% have the same level of confidence in governments and leaders of environmental groups.
  • Canadians are more likely to have confidence in the leaders of environmental groups than in business leaders or political leaders.
  • Regionally, levels of confidence in leaders (business, political, and environmental) are sharply lower in Alberta compared to the rest of the country.

Click here to read the full report, Addressing climate change in the Canadian federation, issued from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 survey.

This year’s Confederation of Tomorrow survey was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the Canada West Foundation, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, and the JSGS. The 2021 study consisted of a survey of 5,814 adults, conducted online in the provinces between January 25 and February 17, and online and by telephone in the territories between January 25 and March 1.

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For more information, contact:  

Erica Schindel
Communication and Marketing Manager
Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
306-966-2663
erica.schindel@usask.ca

Victoria Dinh
USask Media Relations
306-966-5487
victoria.dinh@usask.ca

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