Most Canadians support carbon pricing; but less consensus on effectiveness of such measures

by Angus Reid | April 22, 2015 12:01 am

Just over half say federal government isn’t paying enough attention to climate change.

April 22, 2015 – As Ontario develops plans to join Quebec and California’s cap and trade carbon pricing framework, and as British Columbia is featured on the world stage for its carbon tax, a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute shows a majority of Canadians are supportive of carbon pricing programs, even if they’re not as convinced of the efficacy of such measures in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The opinion poll results also reflect a desire of just over half of Canadians surveyed to see their federal government focus more on climate policy issues. While one-in-five say these questions will be a deciding factor in how they cast their ballots when an expected election is called this fall, nearly one-third say they don’t know which federal leader is best on these issues. Those with an opinion put the current prime minister at the head of the pack; mostly due to endorsement from those who oppose carbon pricing policies.

Key Findings:

Angus Reid Institute

Public support for carbon pricing approaches

In the wake of the provincial premiers meeting in Quebec City to discuss climate policy last week, the Canadians participating in this national Angus Reid Institute poll were provided with a brief description of the two main carbon pricing approaches – cap and trade and carbon taxing – and were asked to indicate their support for adopting either system, both in their province, and nationally.

Cap and trade

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s announcement last week on cap and trade is aimed at fulfilling the commitment made by that province in 2008 when it signed the Western Climate Initiative[1] with California and Quebec. The latter jurisdictions have since created a joint cap and trade system.

Three quarters of surveyed Canadians voiced overall support for a cap and trade system for their own province (74%) or Canada as a whole (75%):

Carbon Tax

British Columbia introduced its carbon tax in in 2008 at a rate of $10 per tonne, with incremental increases to $30 per tonne in 2012. $30 per tonne equates to roughly seven cents per litre of gasoline. It has been at that level ever since. In recent days, BC Premier Christy Clark said an increase to the tax rate won’t happen[2] when a current five-year rate freeze expires in 2018.<

This poll also finds majority support for carbon taxing, though not quite as high as for cap and trade, at 54 per cent in one’s own province and 56 per cent nationally. As with cap and trade, Quebecers voice the most enthusiasm for carbon taxing while Ontarians are most lukewarm about it (47% support at the provincial level). In British Columbia, the poll finds 54 per cent support their provincial carbon tax while 57 per cent voice support for a national carbon tax system.

Angus Reid Institute
The effectiveness of carbon pricing policies

Canadians may express broad support for carbon pricing systems, but aren’t overwhelmingly convinced of their effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the case of cap and trade, slightly fewer than half (47%) of Canadians surveyed said they believe this would be an effective approach to reducing emissions:

The overall pattern of response is very consistent though slightly more negative in the case of carbon taxation:

Views on efficacy are strongly related to overall support for carbon pricing. Among those indicating support for a national cap and trade system, fully six-in-ten (61%) say they believe it would be very or quite effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Looking more closely by degree of support, the results show fully three-quarters (78%) of strong supporters believe a cap and trade system would be “very” or “quite” effective at reducing emissions, and this view drops off to roughly half (47%) among those only moderately supportive of national cap and trade.

Likewise, among opponents, those most strongly opposed dismiss cap and trade as not at all effective (three-quarters (78%) do so), but this proportion drops off to only one-in-four (27%) of those moderately opposed who are much more likely to anticipate cap and trade would be “not very” effective.

Is climate change real?

Previous studies[3] from the Angus Reid Institute have underlined considerable public concern about climate change. Indeed, a national survey last fall found three-quarters (75%) of Canadians say climate change is a serious threat to the planet, although a smaller majority (62%) believe it is a fact, and caused by man-made pollution.

Is government paying enough attention to climate change?

Opinion on this question varies depending on demographics and the political proclivities of survey respondents. There are also differences depending on whether the question relates to the performance of provincial or federal governments. At the provincial level, 43 per cent of Canadians believe their own province is not paying enough attention to the issue, while 40 per cent are satisfied their province is doing “the right amount” and 17 per cent say “too much”.

Results from province to province on this question are fairly consistent, however, it’s important to note that province-to-province data on this question is not necessarily “apples-to-apples”. Each provincial government has its own approach to addressing climate policy. Respondents in each province or region, therefore, are judging the individual actions (or lack thereof) of the provincial government in which they live.

How do Canadians judge the federal government’s attention to climate change? The Angus Reid Institute found that:

On the other end of the spectrum, just over one-in-ten (12%) say the federal government is paying “too much” attention, including nearly one-in-five (19%) in Alberta

angus reid institute

Election Factor?

To what extent could climate change be expected to figure in the coming federal election? Those surveyed were asked to describe how much of a voting factor the issue will likely be for them using a 10-point scale where one represented “not a factor at all” and ten represented “it’s the deciding factor”.

Overall, one-in-five (20%) surveyed chose an 8, 9 or 10 on this scale: carbon pricing supporters are most likely to say this is a voting issue for them. About half (53%) chose somewhere in the middle range (4-7 on the scale) and the remaining quarter (28%) indicated it would be, at best, a minor issue in their vote formation process.


To put this into context with other national issues: the 20 per cent who put this high on the vote factor scale is slightly more than the 16 per cent who said the same in the case of two other high profile topics in the news lately: the action against ISIS and the Senate scandal.

Political Leadership:

The Angus Reid Institute poll results offer some noteworthy angles on the question of which federal leader is best to deal with climate policy, should it become a defining issue of the upcoming federal campaign. The largest number of Canadians – 30 per cent say they don’t know which leader would be best to handle this issue.

Angus Reid Institute

Among those with an opinion, Conservative Party Leader, Stephen Harper, was selected as the best choice to handle this issue by 31 per cent of respondents who named a leader in this survey. Among those with an opinion, the rest of the party leaders are split evenly on high-ground regarding leadership on climate change. Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau is the choice of roughly one-quarter (24%), Green Party Leader Elizabeth May garners about the same amount of support (23%), followed closely by Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair (21%)

Angus Reid Institute

Much of Harper’s support on this issue comes from those opposed to carbon pricing; while the opposition leaders are left to contest support among the proponents of these policies. We see broad-based support for both carbon pricing systems, but opponents of these gravitate to Conservative party leader Stephen Harper as the best choice on the file (six-in-ten (60%) in the case of cap and trade and half (52%) of carbon tax opponents).

The Conservative Leader also received more support from his own party than other leaders. Three-quarters (75%) of 2011 CPC voters surveyed chose Stephen Harper as best to deal with climate change issues. Among the other leaders, only the Green Party’s Elizabeth May comes close with two-thirds of her 2011 supporters choosing her. That said, May also does well with past Liberal (25%) and NDP (28%) voters surveyed. Trudeau was the choice of six-in-ten (59%) past Liberal voters. Just over two-in-five past NDP voters selected Mulcair as best to deal with climate change.

Finally, the survey results show Harper is the solid choice of Canadians who say this issue is not an important vote factor for them while those who put it highest on the vote factor scale are far more likely to choose an opposition party leader. However, Elizabeth May has the edge with this latter group.

Click here for full report including tables and methodology[4]

Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey

Image Credit: Kim Seng/Flickr

  1. Western Climate Initiative:
  2. won’t happen:
  3. Previous studies:
  4. Click here for full report including tables and methodology:

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