Andrew Scheer's climate plan speaks to a smaller audience: Conservatives

Most Canadians see fighting climate change as a top priority for government. But most of those who don't are voting Conservative.

Poll shows Conservative voters are less concerned about climate change than other parties' supporters

Supporters of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's party have a very different view of climate change than supporters of other parties. The plan for the environment he laid out on Wednesday reflects this. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer laid out his party's environmental plan on Wednesday, he was speaking mainly to Conservative voters — an audience quite different from the one Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses when he talks about his government's plan to fight climate change.

That's because Conservative voters see the issue in a manner quite distinct from the way it's viewed by Canadians who say they will vote for the Liberals, New Democrats or Greens.

Compared to the bulk of those parties' supporters — who together represent a majority of Canadians — Conservative voters say they are less concerned about climate change and are less willing to make personal sacrifices to fight it, according to a poll commissioned by CBC News.

The survey, conducted between May 31 and June 10 by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue, finds remarkably uniform views among Canadians who currently plan to vote for the Liberals, New Democrats or Greens.

Between 78 and 89 per cent of them say that humanity's survival depends on fighting climate change, or that it should be a top policy priority. Between 94 and 95 per cent of them believe climate change is real and between 83 and 89 per cent of them say they are prepared to make changes in their daily lives to fight it.

There is no such widespread concern among Conservative supporters.

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The survey — which included a sample of 920 Canadians who said they intend to vote Conservative, or are leaning toward it — found that just one-third of Conservative voters say climate change is a top priority or that our survival depends on fighting it.

Another 24 per cent said it was not a priority, while 13 per cent said they don't believe in climate change in the first place.

While 74 to 86 per cent of Liberal, NDP and Green voters think Canada is not doing enough to fight climate change, just 36 per cent of Conservatives think the same thing.

Read Conservative lips: no new taxes

In addition to a more sanguine view of the state of the planet, the Conservative voters polled reported deeply-held opposition to the federal carbon tax plan — or any imposition of new taxes.

According to the survey, 85 per cent of Conservative voters say they oppose the federal carbon tax — 69 per cent say they strongly oppose it. A majority of New Democrat and Green supporters — and an even larger share of Liberal voters — support the government's carbon pricing mechanism.

When asked how much they would be willing to pay in extra taxes to fight climate change, a majority of Conservative voters, or 55 per cent, said they would pay nothing at all. Between 14 and 19 per cent of Liberal, NDP and Green voters, meanwhile, said they were unwilling to pay anything.

Scheer's plan appears designed to appeal to this base of voters. The Conservatives are promising a number of measures, but none that will impose direct costs on the average Canadian.

Still, the fact that the party has offered a plan — one that Scheer praised as the "most comprehensive environmental platform ever put forward by a political party in Canada" — suggests the Conservatives understand that lacking a credible climate proposal was not an option on the campaign trail.

Fishing in a smaller climate pond

According to the CBC News poll, Scheer's current supporters are slightly more concerned about climate change than the base of voters that supported Stephen Harper's party in 2015. The voters the Conservatives have picked up since the last election — primarily from the Liberals — are likely the reason for that. This suggests that, in order to keep these new supporters, the Conservatives needed to put some sort of climate plan in the window.

Even though Conservative supporters are less concerned about climate change than supporters of other parties, two-thirds still say they believe climate change is real and 61 per cent say they are willing to make changes in their daily lives (most of them modest in scope) to fight it.

Conservative voters also were more likely than others to agree with the statement that "it doesn't matter what Canada does if other countries don't do their part"; 80 per cent of Conservative supporters backed that assertion, compared to only 53 per cent among Liberals and New Democrats.

One of the main pillars of the Conservative environmental plan presented on Wednesday is a pitch to use Canadian technology (like carbon capture and storage) or exports of cleaner energy sources (such as liquefied natural gas) to help other big emitters, namely China, cut their own emissions. The CBC News poll suggests this is a proposal that will resonate among Conservative supporters most.

In the end, that might be the only group Scheer needs to rally to win in October. On climate change, the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens — along with the Bloc Québécois in Quebec — are trying to appeal to the large majority of Canadians.

That leaves Scheer's party fishing in a smaller pond. But his is the only boat in 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.