Most Canadians agree that more needs to be done to fight climate change, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than the federal government’s carbon tax to get them to ditch gas-guzzling vehicles.
That’s one of the key findings of an Ipsos poll of 2,001 Canadians, conducted between Dec. 7 and Dec. 12, that suggested a disconnect between Canadians’ acceptance of climate change as a problem and their willingness to potentially incur financial loss to help the government tackle it.
Fewer than one in five Canadians said gas prices between $1.00 and $1.25 a litre would prompt them to switch to a more fuel-efficient car or find alternate modes of transportation, found the poll, which was conducted exclusively for Global News.
That range represents where gas prices would be likely to hover if the federal government’s suggested 2019 carbon tax of 4.42 cents per liter were applied to today’s gas prices.
The average gas prices in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta — the provinces with the most motor vehicle registrations — stood at 98.1 cents, $1.08 and 92.2 cents per liter respectively as of Thursday, Dec. 27, according to the Canadian Automobile Authority. If the 4.42 cents/litre carbon tax was to be added today, it would only push gas prices high enough for 18 per cent of respondents to switch to more fuel-efficient cars or alternate modes of transportation.
The gas price range that most Canadians said would cause them to rethink their vehicular choices was $2.00 to $2.25 cents per litre, but that would require a near-doubling of today’s prices in addition to the carbon tax add-on.
“Given where the price of gas per litre is today, we’ve got an awful long way to go before people actually reach that price point that requires them to seriously consider another option,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Affairs.
“The truth is they’re not even close to considering it right now.”
Bricker added that electric car sales in Canada are also an instructive barometer for this, observing that sales have gone up “but not anywhere near the level they would have to be at in order to adjust anything in terms of Canada’s carbon footprint.”
The dilemma facing the Trudeau government is that gas prices in that $2.00 to $2.25 cents per litre range wouldn’t merely convince 30 per cent of Canadians to switch to fuel-efficient transportation, they might also convince many Canadians to vote the Liberals out.
“The penalty that someone would face, particularly in the situation of a government increasing [the carbon tax] to a level that it would have to get to in order for people to consider another option, is probably something that would imperil them politically,” Bricker said.
“That’s one of the persistent issues that the federal government faces on this. The level of priority that they seem to place on [climate change] is higher than the priority that Canadians are placing on it.”
Indeed, only 19 per cent of respondents chose climate change among the three issues that they said are most likely to influence their voting decisions in next year’s federal election. Health care (32 per cent) was top of mind followed by taxes (30 per cent) and the economy (27 per cent).
That’s not because Canadians don’t see climate change as an important issue, however.
Seventy-five per cent of respondents said Canada needs to do more to address climate change, while the same proportion also said Canada has an obligation to be a leader in the global fight against climate change.
However, 61 per cent expressed concern that climate change solutions will cause economic hardship.
“Canadians are very conflicted, particularly when we get into the situation of ‘What’s it going to cost me personally?’” said Bricker. “When this becomes a table-top issue — when it becomes something that concerns my bank account and my cost of living — that’s all of a sudden where you see people starting to put the brakes on.”
To this end, the Trudeau government announced a rebate program in conjunction with its carbon tax regime in October; Bricker said it remains to seen if that will be a success.
Downtown-dwelling respondents — whether in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver — tended to be more concerned about climate change than people living in suburbs and rural small-town environments, Bricker revealed.
He added that suburban voters, who often don’t have a way to get to work without using their cars, are poised to play a key role in deciding whether Trudeau wins a second mandate.
“When you take a look at who are the people that could be the most persuasive in the election campaign, they’re people who live in the suburbs of major cities,” said Bricker.
“The only swing group in Canadian politics right now — really — are suburban commuters. So whoever can appeal to them the most are the people who have the best chance of winning the election campaign.”
So if carbon taxes don’t look to be enough to convince Canadians to consider more environment-friendly transportation options, what else might be?
“Practically nothing at this stage of the game,” said Bricker.
He added that this isn’t just a Canada-centric problem, but reflective of how much of the world thinks — in Ipsos’ last global survey of 25 countries, climate change placed 14th on the list of 17 most important issues.
“The problem is that the level of public concerns is not high enough to engage in some of these more difficult public policy choices,” said Bricker. “So if you’re asking somebody to pay a big price for it, it’s not just Canada where people say, ‘Hold on a second, I don’t think I’m ready for that.’
“Most of the world feels the same way.”
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