Canadians are broadly supportive of the country committing to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, even at a personal cost, but views vary significantly from one part of the country to the next.
And for two of the premiers who visited Ottawa for a first ministers summit yesterday, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall and Manitoba's Greg Selinger, the issue affects them very differently as they face re-election in less than five months.
A new poll by the Angus Reid Institute taken as the world's leaders prepare for climate talks in Paris next week suggests that more than two-thirds of Canadians believe that climate change is a serious threat.
The poll also suggests that a majority of Canadians are prepared to make a personal sacrifice to do something about it: 63 per cent said they support Canada signing an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, even if it means a 10 per cent increase in their annual energy costs.
Of potential routes to achieving lower emissions targets, Canadians prefer a cap-and-trade system, with 59 per cent saying they support the implementation of such a pricing system in their province. By comparison, 52 per cent supported the idea of a carbon tax — and a majority were opposed to such a scheme in Alberta, where Premier Rachel Notley this weekend announced that the province would be putting something like that in place.
Compared with residents of other provinces, British Columbians were most likely to be on board with taking steps toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions, while Albertans were the least. They were not alone, as residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba also appear skeptical.
Wall and Selinger face different situations
The two Prairie provinces were split down the middle on whether residents supported new efforts at the cost of higher energy prices, and a majority were opposed to the implementation of a carbon tax (they were divided virtually equally on a cap-and-trade system). But though the two provinces are looking at how to deal with the longer-term issue of climate change similarly, their two premiers are facing different situations in the short term.
Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba are scheduled to hold their next provincial elections in April (the federal election bumped them from the fall, when they were originally scheduled).
At this stage, Wall's tenure in office, which began in 2007, looks to be in little danger of coming to an end. The most recent poll out of the province awarded his conservative Saskatchewan Party 54 per cent support, against 25 per cent for the opposition New Democrats. His approval rating has averaged a glittering 63 per cent in polls conducted in 2015.
Nevertheless, Wall does have an incentive to be one of the few dissenting voices around the premiers table. Though his support in Saskatchewan remains the envy of most premiers, his numbers have been dropping of late. The climate change talks present a good opportunity for the premier to portray himself as a defender of the province's oil and gas industry but, if he goes too far, he risks alienating the large proportion of Saskatchewan residents who do want action to be taken on the file.
For Selinger, whose NDP has been in power in Manitoba since 1999, a strong performance on the issue is greatly needed, though unlikely to turn around his fading fortunes. Only in Alberta did the federal New Democrats take a smaller share of the vote than in Manitoba in October's federal election, and by the most recent measure Selinger's NDP trails the opposition Progressive Conservatives by 20 points.
In fact, the party has trailed by double digits for over two years, while Selinger's approval rating has averaged just 22 per cent in 2015. His disapproval rating, at 66 per cent, does not bode well for his party's chances in the April vote.
Considering that Manitobans are split on the issue of how to tackle climate change, the NDP premier may be hard-pressed to find a winning position that can fit his party's natural place on the political spectrum and not split the vote with the surging Manitoba Liberals. Wall is under no such constraints in Saskatchewan.
But the premiers might have more incentive to posture than to strive toward agreement. Though the Angus Reid poll suggests that Canadians think that the federal and provincial governments can come together with a common message to bring to Paris, Canadians do not think that much will come from the talks in the French capital.
When asked whether respondents were confident that the climate change conference would achieve broad international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 59 per cent said they were not very or not at all confident. Only in Quebec were a majority confident that an agreement would come out of the talks.
The expectations of most Canadians will be met if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes out of Paris with little to show for his efforts. But this also means that it will not take much to beat those expectations and claim some success.
And while Paris marks an important first test for the new government, it may also prove to be a significant final test for two premiers before they take their case to voters.
The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between November 16 and 18, interviewing 1,508 Canadians via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.