Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the federal government’s carbon tax plan.
In the 6-3 decision, the court stated that Ottawa is free to impose minimum pricing standards due to the threat posed by climate change. The ruling went against the wishes of the provincial administrations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, who sought to see the federal carbon tax declared unconstitutional.
When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about the court’s decision, a majority of Canadians (57%) said it was correct, while 29% disagreed and 13% were not sure. Significant majorities of Canadians who voted for the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 2019 federal election think the court was right (71% and 70% respectively), while only 32% of Conservative Party supporters share this view.
The court’s ruling practically ends the unsuccessful campaign of conservative politicians to seek political gains by chiding the carbon tax. In spite of the polarization that social media bestows to any type of debate, the carbon tax is not an issue where groups are extremely tilted. In Alberta, where the provincial government abandoned a carbon tax that was already in place in the hopes of a legal victory, residents are evenly split on the Supreme Court’s decision (47% agree and 46% disagree). This is hardly an endorsement of past tactics.
Even with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of Canadians (47%) think the federal government is not paying enough attention to the environment. Atlantic Canadians, Quebecers and British Columbians are more likely to be calling for additional action from Ottawa on this file.
For many of the country’s residents, the crisis is real. When Canadians are asked if they are personally concerned about 10 different environmental problems, the one that is mentioned the most by the country’s residents is air pollution (64%), followed by the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs (62%), climate change or global warming (also 62%) and the pollution of drinking water (61%).
Women are more likely to say they are personally concerned about climate change (67%) than men (57%). There is a generational shift as well, with worries about global warming climbing to 69% among Canadians aged 55 and over, compared to 67% among those aged 35 to 54 and 52% among those aged 18 to 34.
Opinions about carbon tax vary widely by political affiliation of Canadian voters
The biggest gap is political. Majorities of Canadians who in the last federal election voted for the Liberals (75%) and the New Democrats (72%) are personally concerned about climate change, compared to just 47% of those who cast ballots for Conservative candidates.
At this point, Conservative voters do not care about the environment as much as others. We found that 10% of Canadians are not worried about any of the issues that we asked about. Among Tory supporters, the proportion climbs to 16%.
One of the stories that merited coverage in the aftermath of the Conservative Party’s policy convention was the defeat of a motion to recognize that “climate change is real.” While 54% of attendees voted to strike it down, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole had stated hours earlier, “We will have a plan to address climate change. It will be comprehensive, and it will be serious.” The Official Opposition is now destined to try to establish an emotional connection with voters on issues such as fiscal solvency and spending.
Canadians are not entirely convinced that the carbon tax is bad. The levy has been implemented in different forms across the country. Some provinces have their own carbon tax, while others are under the federal plan. Across the country, 45% of Canadians think the carbon tax has “definitely” or “probably” negatively affected the finances of their household.
The pattern of disagreement that we saw with the court’s decision is also evident on this question, with majorities of Conservative voters (65%), Albertans (58%) and men (51%) thinking that the carbon tax has made them poorer.
Finally, the notion that the existence of the levy would lead Canadians to be more mindful of their consumption finds a skeptical reception. While 41% think the carbon tax has had this effect, 44% believe it has done nothing to change the behaviour of Canadians.
As expected, Quebecers (53%) and Canadians aged 18 to 34 (51%) think the carbon tax has changed our customs. Conversely, majorities of Albertans (59%) and Conservatives (55%) say it has had no effect.
The numbers outline a country where the carbon tax is not as terrible as its detractors would like it to be, nor as marvellous as its defenders claim it has been. There are well-defined groups that will continue to express an ideological opposition. Still, the defeat in the Supreme Court should put the Conservative Party on notice. Building a campaign for an expected federal election over this issue could be a losing proposition.
Results are based on an online study conducted on April 2 and April 3, 2021, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.