Toronto

Fixing the environment is 'hard to envision,' but it's this mom's top election priority

Christine Heidebrecht, 37, is the kind of voter every political party is trying to entice. The mom of two says the best way to get her vote is to protect the environment. But for many Ontarians, green issues aren't as high a priority.

Vote Compass results show the economy, health care influence voters more than the environment

Christine Heidebrecht, 37, says the environment is her number one voting issue in June's provincial election, mostly because she's worried about the planet we are leaving behind for her three-year-old daughter Hannah and her other child. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Christine Heidebrecht, 37, is the kind of voter every political party is trying to entice.

While playing with her three-year-old daughter Hannah in Toronto's High Park, the mom of two said her vote is up for grabs and the best way to get it is policies that protect the environment. 

"I've got two kids and I'm thinking about the planet that we're leaving them," said Heidebrecht.

But she realizes for other voters, it may not be as influential when they cast their ballots in Ontario's June election.

"Maybe it's hard to envision things that could actually effect change, so maybe people are thinking healthcare and education and childcare," she said. 

"Maybe it's a bit easier to envision what the concrete steps are."

Her mother, Marg Heidebrecht, thinks the environment is critically important, but when it comes time to vote, it doesn't top her list.

Marg Heidebrecht, 63, says childcare is her top issue. But she says the environment is important and she thinks the best way to protect it is to make better transit. (Chris Glover/CBC )

"I think the challenge with environmental change is that it's making changes now that we don't see for something much further down the road," she said.

Heidebrecht says childcare is the number one issue driving her vote.

"I see what my kids and their partners are going through. It feels like exactly the same thing I was going through with my peers 35 years ago," she said.

"We haven't figured it out yet."

Meanwhile, 36-year-old Nishit Shah from Brampton says the economy is what he'll be thinking about as he casts his ballot.

He says the environment "ranks last because all the other matters like taxes and living benefits ... matter most compared to environment. They have to think of the people first compared to the environment."

Nishit Shah, 36, says taxes and the economy are the things that matter most to him. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Environment ranks well below the economy 

The signals voters send on the environment and its importance to them as an election issue are definitely mixed.

In the 2014 Ontario election campaign, Vote Compass, a CBC online tool that shows voters how their views compare with the parties' platforms, found 58 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: "Environmental regulations should be stricter, even if it means consumers pay higher prices."

"That's the position that they take on the issue," said Cliff van der Linden, founder and CEO of Vox Pop Labs, the company that built Vote Compass. "But in terms of ... how much it affects or influences their vote come election day, there's a difference there. It falls behind other issues."

Vote Compass found respondents ranked the environment eighth, behind health care, transit, education and the economy.

"It's almost universally the case that the economy is the number one issue. Where the environment sits on that list can fluctuate," said van der Linden.

Environment becoming more of a 'vote determiner' 

A big problem with environmental policy is that it's complicated, said Laura Bowman, a Toronto lawyer with Ecojustice Canada, the country's largest national environmental law charity. She says it's not that Ontarians don't care or don't think about the environment when they vote.

"I think it's that they don't always have the information about why the environmental problems they're seeing are there and what the government's role at different levels of government is in fixing that problem."

Environmental Defence sent a survey to the Liberal, New Democratic, Progressive Conservative and Green parties in coordination with several other environmental groups. It asked for their commitments on more than a dozen policy positions. (David Donnelly/CBC, Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

But there is a shift in the way people value the environment as a "vote determiner," says Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence.

"I think people realize it's both a huge risk in terms of what's happening with climate, but also an opportunity around the transition," Gray said, "and that if we don't do something about this we maximize the risk to us."

Since Environmental Defence is a charity, it doesn't support any particular party, but it says the top priority is to mitigate climate change.

"If we don't have a price on carbon, if we're not collecting money from polluters ... then it just becomes more expensive and difficult to make the changes we need," Gray said.

What the political parties think about the environment 

About a month ago, Environmental Defence and several other groups sent a survey to the three main parties, and the Greens, asking for their positions on more than a dozen policy positions.

The PCs did not provide answers to the survey, but the other parties did.

Click here to see the list of questions and responses.   

Here are the environmental policy positions from the parties in alphabetical order:

Greens

  • Moving towards 100 per cent carbon neutral renewable energy, i.e. getting off nuclear power plants and buying hydroelectric power from Quebec and Manitoba.
  • Building clean and accessible transit system, electrifying regional transit, introducing things such as road tolls, parking levies.
  • Permanent protection of green spaces and prime farmland and expanding the Greenbelt to include the "Bluebelt," which is sensitive water sources around the Greenbelt that provide drinking water

Liberals

  • Continue to use proceeds from the cap-and-trade carbon market with California and Quebec, which is estimated to raise $2 billion in 2018-2019.
  • Offer: $960 million to help households and businesses adopt low carbon efficiencies and $160 million in incentives for people purchasing electric vehicles.
  • Invest $52 million over three years to help sustainability of the Great Lakes, including investing in new technologies to address excessive algae and toxic chemicals.

New Democrats 

  • Dedicate 25 per cent of cap-and-trade revenues to support lower-income, rural, and northern households, and trade-exposed industries.
  • Introduce a new $50 million no-interest home retrofit program to help people consume less power.
  • Invest in renewable energy such as solar, water, and wind.

Progressive Conservatives 

Platform to come. So far, in relation to the environment, Doug Ford has promised to protect the Greenbelt and to scrap carbon pricing. 

now