This study was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with the Canada West Foundation; le Centre d’analyse politique : Constitution et Fédéralisme (CAP-CF) à l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM); Institute for Research on Public Policy; the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government

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For full project details, go to Environics Institute

Executive Summary

The Confederation of Tomorrow 2020 survey was conducted several months following the October 2019 federal election. That election appeared to leave the country divided along regional lines, with a government with no representatives from Saskatchewan and Alberta; an official opposition all but shut out in central Canada’s two metropolises; and a resurgent Bloc Québécois. By the start of 2020, discontent was growing among many Indigenous communities as well – the most notable example being the conflict over plans to complete construction of a natural gas pipeline to the Pacific coast through the traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. While the 2020 survey confirms that there are many differences in opinion among Canadians in different parts of the country, it also shows that these are sometimes not as widespread as might be expected, and that they are not necessarily widening.

Outlook on the country and the economy

Perceptions of the country’s top problem vary considerably from region to region, with some regions focused more on the environment and climate change, some focused more on the economy or unemployment, and others more concerned about the cost of living or healthcare. Those living in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan are both more likely to see the economy as the country’s most pressing problem, and more likely to be concerned about job security. Satisfaction with the way things are going in the country today is also much lower than average in Saskatchewan and Alberta – in fact, these are the only two jurisdictions in the country where majorities of residents are dissatisfied. The level of dissatisfaction in Alberta is now twice as high as that in Quebec.

Addressing climate change

In the wake of the 2019 federal election, Canadians appeared deeply divided over the question of whether an adequate response to climate change can be reconciled with the goal of protecting jobs in the country’s oil and gas sector. On this issue, however, the regional differences of opinion may not be as widespread as expected.

On the question of whether protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs, for instance, regional differences are not especially large. Across the provinces, agreement is either just below or just above 50 percent, rather than heavily weighted to one side or the other (opinions are more weighted toward agreement in the North). Canadians are also less regionally divided than might be expected on the question of how quickly the country should move to phase out the use of fossil fuels like oil and gas in order to replace them with more renewable sources of energy. In every jurisdiction, a plurality favours a gradual phase-out of fossils fuels so as to avoid a sudden loss of jobs in the oil and gas industry. Canadians are divided – as there is no consensus or even a majority favouring any of the three options presented in the survey – but this division exists within each province. It is not a schism that pits one province or region against another.

When it comes to developing a strategy to fight climate change, Canadians across all regions also have similar priorities – with some exceptions. The item most likely to be seen as a high priority for Canada’s climate change strategy is ensuring that all regions of Canada benefit from a strong economy. In each of the 13 provinces and territories, more people list this item as a high priority than any other – meaning that, not only do Canadians in all provinces agree on which item is the top priority, but that item is itself the one that underlines the importance of regional fairness.

In Alberta, however, the second most often mentioned high priority is preventing job losses in the oil and gas industry – this is also the third most often mentioned high priority in Saskatchewan. Albertans are much more likely than Canadians outside of that province to mention this as a high priority.

Finally, when it comes to addressing climate change, the proportion of Canadians that trust the federal government more to make the right decisions remains greater than the proportion that trust their provincial or territorial government more – with little overall change in responses since 2019. While there is little change at the national level, there was some change in Alberta. Between 2019 and 2020 – a period that saw the election of a new provincial government with a more confrontational approach toward Ottawa on the climate change issue – the proportion of Albertans trusting the federal government more to address climate change increased.

Federalism, regionalism and nationalism

The 2020 survey asked Canadians about whether they felt their province or territory is treated with the respect it deserves in Canada, and whether it has its fair share of influence on important national decisions. While, overall, there was little change between 2019 and 2020, changes have emerged in some jurisdictions: feelings of lack of respect or influence grew in New Brunswick, attenuated slightly in Alberta (while remaining pronounced by historical standards), continued to decline in B.C., and fluctuated somewhat across the three Northern territories.

The survey also shows that the proportion of Canadians agreeing that federalism has more advantages than disadvantages for their jurisdiction has fallen to the lowest level since the question was first asked more than two decades ago. This does not mean, however, that the level of disagreement has increased – rather, the proportion saying they don’t know or cannot say has risen. It seems that, over time, Canadians have become less convinced or certain about the advantages of federalism, without necessarily becoming more adamant about its disadvantages.

In Quebec, there has again been no significant change in identification with either federalism or sovereignty since last year. About one in five Quebecers see themselves as mainly federalist, while the same proportion sees themselves as mainly sovereigntist. Among francophone Quebecers age 45 or under, only 15 percent see themselves as mainly federalist.

In the West, the 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey reported that a record number agreed with the proposition that “Western Canada gets so few benefits from being part of Canada that they might as well go it on their own.” The 2020 survey finds that, rather than continuing to grow, support for the West going it on its own actually decreased over the year. The drop was slightly larger in Alberta and Saskatchewan. However, the level of agreement with the idea of the region “going it alone” remains relatively high by historical standards.

Finally, the 2020 survey finds that the economic and political events of 2019 – including the continuing economic downturn in the oil and gas industry, an intensified debate about how to address climate change, the spring Alberta provincial election and the October federal election – ultimately did not erode the confidence that Canadians have in their ability to overcome their differences.