Politics·Climate Change

Canadians are worried about climate change, but many don't want to pay taxes to fight it: Poll

Canadians are deeply concerned about climate change and are willing to make adjustments in their lives to fight it — but for many people, paying as much as even a monthly Netflix subscription in extra taxes is not one of them, a new poll suggests.

CBC News poll finds about half of Canadians unwilling to pay more to help the cause

A new poll suggests Canadians are deeply concerned about climate change, but many are unwilling to make major sacrifices to combat it. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

This story is part of a CBC News series entitled In Our Backyard, which looks at the effects climate change is having in Canada, from extreme weather events to how it's reshaping our economy.

Canadians are deeply concerned about climate change and are willing to make adjustments in their lives to fight it — but for many people, paying as much as even a monthly Netflix subscription in extra taxes is not one of them, a new poll suggests.

The survey results, the first in a series from a poll commissioned by CBC News and conducted by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue to capture a portrait of the country in this election year, found that while nearly two-thirds of Canadians see fighting climate change as a top priority, half of those surveyed would not shell out more than $100 per year in taxes to prevent climate change, the equivalent of less than $9 a month.

The findings point to a population that is both gravely concerned about the heating of the planet but largely unprepared to make significant sacrifices in order to stave off an environmental crisis.

The CBC News poll, which was conducted online between May 31 and June 10, interviewing 4,500 Canadians who are members of the Maru/Blue panel, found that 19 per cent of Canadians listed climate change as the issue they are most worried about — second only to the cost of living, which topped the list at 32 per cent.

Other findings in the poll, include:

That concern appears to be deeply felt by many Canadians — and particularly younger Canadians — as 38 per cent of respondents said that "our survival depends on addressing" climate change and 25 per cent said it is a top priority. Another 20 per cent said "it's important, but not a top priority," while 11 per cent said it wasn't a priority.

Climate change is shaping up to be an important issue in the upcoming election battle between Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. (Chris Wattie/Reuters, Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Only six per cent of respondents said they did not believe in climate change.

The poll also found 65 per cent of respondents agreeing with the statement "Canada is not doing enough to fight climate change," topping out at 76 per cent in Quebec.

Canadians say they are willing to do more

To help prevent climate change, three-quarters of Canadians polled said they were willing to make major (25 per cent) or some (50 per cent) changes in what they do in their daily lives. Only four per cent said they were not willing to do anything, while 15 per cent said they don't need to make changes as they already have a small carbon footprint.

The poll asked those respondents who said they were willing to make changes in their lives what they were willing to do or had already done.

Most Canadians are concerned about the impacts of climate change. One of those potential impacts is increased flooding in certain parts of the country. This photo was taken on April 29 in the Montreal suburb of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac. (Sebastien St-Jean/AFP/Getty Images)

The most popular options were buying local (75 per cent) and reducing the thermostat (66 per cent), while 55 per cent said they were willing to purchase fewer things in general. Just under half, or 47 per cent, said they would be willing to drive less, while 37 per cent would take public transit or use a bicycle more often.

These options were the more convenient, less expensive and, in some cases, cost-saving ones when compared to the actions Canadians were less willing to take.

Just 34 per cent said they would go without air conditioning, 30 per cent would purchase a vehicle with an energy-saving mode and 25 per cent would fly less frequently. Fewer than one in five respondents who were willing to make changes to their lives said they would purchase an electric car (20 per cent), move to a smaller house or apartment (19 per cent) or give up eating meat (17 per cent).

Combined with the survey's findings of such a high level of concern about the cost of living — it ranked as both Canadians' biggest worry and their top election issue — the numbers suggest that while Canadians care about climate change, their financial concerns are more important.

Still, only six per cent said they'd like to make changes in their lives to fight climate change but "can't afford it."

1 in 4 Canadians prepared to pay more than $9 per month

The concern about cost was most starkly demonstrated when respondents were asked how much they would be willing to pay in taxes every year to help prevent climate change.

Nearly one-third, or 32 per cent, said they were unwilling to pay anything at all, while 17 per cent said they would be willing to pay less than $100 in taxes every year. Netflix's most basic plan comes in at a yearly price tag of $120.

Another 16 per cent of respondents were willing to pay between $100 and $500 per year — the equivalent of between $8.33 and $41.67 per month. Just seven per cent were willing to pay between $500 and $1,000 per year, while only three per cent would pay more than $1,000 per year in taxes to help prevent climate change.

First-time voters were a notable exception. They were half as likely as the general population to want to pay nothing and markedly more willing to pay extra taxes.

Tackling climate change an election issue

How best to tackle climate change is setting up to be a major issue in the October federal election. The Liberal government's federal carbon tax, which has been or will be imposed on those provinces that don't already have a similar plan in place (Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick), is designed to be offset by rebates that will be greater than the costs of the tax for all but the wealthiest households.

The CBC News poll found that 43 per cent of respondents support the federal carbon tax, compared to 47 per cent who are opposed. Opposition was strongest in Alberta and the Prairies and among Conservative voters.

The Conservatives have pledged to repeal the carbon tax if they win the October election. Andrew Scheer will reveal his party's alternative plan for the environment on Wednesday. These latest polling numbers suggest that if he wants to have the chance to implement that plan, he will need to sound the right tone of concern for the warming planet — without asking Canadians to dig too deeply to stop it.

Commissioned by CBC News, the Public Square Research and Maru/Blue survey was conducted between May 31 and June 10, 2019, interviewing 4,500 eligible voters. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have registered to participate in the Maru Voice panel. The data have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the Maru Voice panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. However, comparable samples of this size have a margin of error of +/- 1.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.



Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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