Environment trumps health care, Afghanistan as key issue: poll

The environment tops a list of the most important issues facing Canadians, surpassing health care, the economy and the war in Afghanistan, a new poll suggested Monday.

The environment tops a list of the most important issues facing Canadians, surpassing health care, the economy and the war in Afghanistan, a new poll suggested Monday.

Conducted by Harris/Decima from Aug. 15 to 21, the poll surveyed 1,000 Canadians across the country.

Thirty per cent of those surveyed said the environment is the most important issue currently facing Canadians. Other key issues were health care, the economy, foreign affairs, crime and justice, poverty, government, taxes and national unity.

When it comes to determining which issues will affect how people will vote, the environment was almost twice as important as the war in Afghanistan.

Across the country, the environment was of most concern in Quebec, with 46 per cent of respondents choosing that issue. That was followed by Atlantic Canada (30 per cent), Ontario (28 per cent), B.C. (23 per cent) and the Prairies (19 per cent).

Canadians appear to feel strongly about the environment, with 61 per cent saying they are "very concerned" about the issue.

A majority of respondents — 68 per cent — said they personally have experienced climate change, while 50 per cent said they believe human and industrial activity is the primary cause of it. Nine per cent said natural forces caused climate change.

Oil industry, government key to change

Under the umbrella of environmental issues, Canadians are most concerned about water pollution, toxic waste and contaminated sites, smog and air quality, wildlife and climate change, the poll suggests.

The survey suggests Canadians believe climate change has global consequences, including the loss of ice caps and farmland, the extinction of some species, asthma, extreme weather conditions and the impact on the world's poorest people.

Most surveyed (68 per cent) said they believe climate change is already occurring, while an equal amount said they believe technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions exists.

Those surveyed hold the oil and gas industry (76 per cent), the federal government and big business (70 per cent each) as primarily responsible for cutting carbon emissions to help deal with climate change.

Poll respondents suggested they want to see the auto industry substantially improve vehicle emissions by 2011, and to see stricter government regulations for industries that pollute.

A whopping 83 per cent said they believe they can personally take action on climate change. More than 80 per cent said they had reduced the amount of waste generated during the past year, while close to the same amount said they'd already reduced their personal energy use.

However, less than 50 per cent said they'd cut down on air travel, and 34 per cent said they've turned to public transit.

Ontarians appear to be the most likely to make lifestyle changes for the environment, while those living in the Prairies were least likely.

Financially, the poll suggests the most well-off Canadians are the least likely to make changes to deal with climate change. People making less than $20,000 and in the $40,000 to $70,000 range were open to lifestyle changes, while people earning more than $100,000 were the least likely, the poll suggested.

Try to meet Kyoto

A meagre 11 per cent of those surveyed said the Conservative government takes the issue of climate change "very seriously." Most people — 40 per cent — said Ottawa takes the issue "somewhat seriously."

Close to 70 per cent said Ottawa's motivation to deal with climate change is to win elections.

Canadians were equally split (27 per cent on each side) on whether they back the idea of a "made in Canada" plan for the environment, an idea touted by the Conservatives in place of the Kyoto protocol.

More than half of Canadians said 2020 — the date the Conservatives have set to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets — is too late to have an effect on the environment.

Most surveyed — 81 per cent — said Ottawa should try to meet the international targets spelled out under Kyoto, even if they are difficult to meet.

Sixty-one per cent said Canada's response to climate change should be in line with European countries that want further Kyoto-like targets, and not follow the path of the U.S. and Australia, which want to create their own environmental plan.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2, 19 times out of 20.