Photo: Poll identifies huge gap between Canadians and government on climate change

If federal politicians looked beyond the House of Commons they would see that Canadians are more than ready to start addressing climate change and even to help pay for the damage that we have done. (Credit: Brian Birke via Flickr)

By Morag Carter, Director, Planning and Strategic Analysis

Canadians care about global warming and expect their governments to do more about it — including putting a price on emissions through measures such as carbon taxes. But the federal government doesn't appear to be listening.

That's clear when you consider the amount of ink spilled in the past week or so about Canada's poor performance at the annual United Nations conference on climate change. Our government turned up in Doha with next to nothing to offer in the talks and, as a result, for the sixth year running took home the prize for the worst performer at the conference — although this year the dubious honour was not ours alone. This time we shared it with a newcomer to the fold of bad actors, New Zealand.

While Canada's federal representatives — including Environment Minister Peter Kent — were doing all they could to obstruct the talks, public opinion and social research institute The Environics Institute was conducting its annual check with Canadians on our thoughts about climate change.

The findings of the new poll couldn't paint a starker picture of the divide between Canadians and their political leaders.

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More and more of us are confident about the science that shows climate change is happening and that we are mainly responsible for it, largely through burning fossil fuels. The good news in the poll concerns what Canadians believe we should do to tackle this serious issue. Across the country and among all political stripes, most of us believe that governments need to do far more to curb emissions. As the pollsters note, "a clear majority believe the problem is real, that government must take the lead role through new regulations and standards, and that citizens like themselves must help pay for the necessary actions through taxes and higher prices for the goods and services they consume."

B.C.'s government imposed a carbon tax in 2008. It remains the only substantial carbon tax in Canada. Recently, the province ordered a review of the tax and invited British Columbians to submit comments. If the government was concerned that support for the tax was softening as we head into a provincial election, it can now rest more easily. The Environics research showed that support for the carbon tax in B.C. is at its highest level since it was introduced, with a clear majority of British Columbians now in favour. The survey also found that, across the country, nearly 60 per cent of Canadians back some kind of carbon tax.

Given these results it's astonishing that federal and provincial governments are not doing more to tackle climate change. They seem to be stuck in a place where throwing insults at each other about positions that neither hold are more important than actually addressing the issue. It's a shame because if federal politicians looked beyond the debating chamber of the House of Commons they would see that Canadians are more than ready to start addressing climate change and even to help pay for the damage that we have done.

But as the old adage goes, "Where the people lead, leaders will follow." It's time our leaders heard loud and clear that Canadians expect more of them.

December 14, 2012

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