The Confederation of Tomorrow surveys are annual studies conducted by an association of the country’s leading public policy organizations: the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the Canada West Foundation, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. The surveys give voice to Canadians about the major issues shaping the future of the federation and their political communities. The 2021 study consists of a survey of 5,814 adults, conducted online in the provinces between January 25 and February 17; and online and by telephone in the territories between January 25 and March 1.
For full project details, go to Environics Institute
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change had emerged as one of Canadians’ top concerns. The situation a year later is completely different: naturally, the pandemic now eclipses all other issues as the one Canadians see as most important. This change notwithstanding, most Canadians remain supportive of policies to address climate change, including the eventual phasing out of the use of fossil fuels in favour of more renewable sources of energy. At the same time, support for the federal government’s handling of the issue has grown over the past two years in each of the provinces at the forefront of the court challenge to the federal carbon pricing policy. Moreover, opinions on the climate change issue remain divided not just between regions of the country, but also within provinces and regions.
The environment and the economy
Canadians are evenly split on the question of whether protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs. The proportion agreeing that protecting the environment is more important, however, is slightly lower today than in early 2020 (prior to the onset of the pandemic) in every province and territory, except Nova Scotia.
In most provinces, the proportion agreeing that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs is relatively close to the national average, indicating that there is little regional difference on this question. There are two exceptions: agreement is noticeably higher than average in Nova Scotia, and noticeably lower in Alberta. Agreement with the notion that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs also remains higher than average in the three territories.
Options to fight climate change: phasing out fossil fuels?
In every part of the country, at least a plurality favours an approach that involves a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels to address climate change. Fewer favour either a more rapid phase-out of fossil fuels even if that means putting people who work in industries like oil and gas out of work, or not worrying so much about phasing out the use of fossil fuels in order to protect jobs in industries like oil and gas. On this question, there has been no significant change in view over the past year.
While a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels is the most popular option in each region of the country, there are differences in terms of the second preference. Quebec is the only province where the second most popular option is phasing out the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. In both Ontario and B.C., the options of not worrying so much about phasing out the use of fossil fuels, and of phasing out the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible, receive more or less equal support. Support for the option of not worrying so much about phasing out the use of fossil fuels is much higher in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
There is also a significant and familiar difference in views among the supporters of the main federal political parties. Clear majorities of supporters of the Liberal Party, the NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois favour the phasing out of fossil fuels to address climate change, with some difference of opinion as to whether that phase-out should occur gradually or quickly. By contrast, Conservative Party supporters are much more divided on the question of whether the priority should be the phasing out of fossil fuels at all.
But it is not sufficient to observe that climate change divides Canadians by region and party affiliation. It is also important to recognize significant regional differences among supporters of the right-leaning or conservative parties across different parts of the country. In addition, the extent of the partisan differences varies considerably within regions. These partisan differences are least evident in Quebec, much more visible in Ontario and B.C., and most acute in Saskatchewan and especially Alberta. While, on average, Albertans have Executive summary Addressing climate change in the Canadian federation • Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey 2 different preferences on this issue than Quebecers, Alberta itself is also internally divided between those on the left and the right of the political spectrum.
Priorities in fighting climate change
As in 2020, in 2021 there are both areas of agreement and disagreement across the country on what should be a priority in developing a strategy to fight climate change.
On the one hand, in each region, the item most likely to be seen as a top priority is keeping all regional economies strong. Keeping taxes low is also among the top three priorities in each region. At the other end of the scale, minimizing government interference in the free market economy is either the lowest or second lowest priority in each region.
On the other hand, there are significant differences as to whether meeting international greenhouse gas reduction targets, or preventing job losses in the oil and gas industry, should be a priority. Meeting international greenhouse gas reduction targets is among the top four priorities in each region, with the notable exceptions of Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Conversely, preventing job losses in the oil and gas industry is near the bottom of the list in Quebec, Manitoba and B.C., but a much higher priority in Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta and the North.
These differences are not ones that pit the West against the rest of the country, as some of the biggest differences of opinion on this question lie within the West itself (for example, between Alberta, on the one hand, and Manitoba and B.C., on the other). Those most likely to agree that protecting jobs in the oil and gas sector should be a high priority in developing a strategy to fight climate change are residents of the North, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Those least likely to agree are residents of Quebec, Manitoba and B.C.
Trust in federal and provincial governments
Currently, one in three Canadians trust the federal government more to make the right decisions in addressing climate change; while just over one in four trust the federal government and their provincial or territorial government equally. One in five trust neither government, and fewer trust their provincial or territorial government more. Notably, since 2019, the proportion trusting the federal government more to make the right decisions in addressing climate change has increased in each of the provinces at the forefront of the court challenge to the federal policy on carbon pricing. This increase is largest in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The public’s trust is more evenly distributed in the case of managing energy resources, with roughly one in four trusting their provincial or territorial government more, trusting both governments equally, or trusting the federal government more. Once again, there have been changes over time within individual provinces, notably in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In Alberta, the proportion trusting the federal government more in managing energy resources has tripled since 2019. While Albertans and Saskatchewanians remain much more likely to trust their provincial government more in this area than they are to trust the federal government more, in both provinces the gap between the proportion trusting their provincial government more and that trusting the federal government more has narrowed over the past two years.
Confidence in leaders
Canadians are more likely to have confidence in the leaders of environmental groups than in business leaders or political leaders. Confidence in leaders of environmental groups is highest in the North, in Quebec and in Atlantic Canada. Confidence in each of these three types of leaders (environmental, business and political) is lower in Alberta than in any other province or territory.
In terms of changes over time, Quebec and Alberta offer the most striking contrast. In the mid-2000s, Albertans were the most likely to express confidence in both political leaders and business leaders, and Quebecers were the least likely to do so. In 2021, the positions have reversed: today, Quebecers are the most likely to have confidence in these leaders, and Albertans the least likely.
Confidence in leaders of environmental groups: widening divides
Confidence in leaders of environmental groups declined between 2002 and 2021, but the extent of this decline has not been uniform across different segments of the population. While there has been very little change in Addressing climate change in the Canadian federation • Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey 3 confidence in leaders of environmental groups among supporters of the federal Liberal Party, confidence in these leaders among Conservative Party supporters is lower today than it was in 2002 among both PC Party supporters and supporters of the Canadian Alliance. Confidence in leaders of environmental groups has also declined among NDP supporters. As a result, the divide in views on environmental leaders between supporters of the federal governing and opposition parties is much wider today than it was two decades ago. As climate change has moved to the forefront of the public agenda, the issue of the environment has become more partisan, and thus more divisive or polarized.
Finally, while confidence in leaders of environmental groups is lower in Alberta than elsewhere in the country, this should not overshadow the fact that there are significant differences of opinion within provinces as well. These differences are greater within Alberta than elsewhere in Canada. For instance, the difference between the level of confidence in environmental leaders expressed by Albertans who place themselves on the left and right of the political spectrum is roughly twice the size of the left-right gap in neighbouring B.C. and Saskatchewan; it is also much bigger than the leftright gap in central Canada.
This report was produced by Environics Institute