A solid majority of Canadians support the key planks in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's energy and climate plan: approving a controversial oil pipeline and imposing a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a poll from Nanos Research Group says.
However, there are stark regional differences that underscore the difficult challenge for the Liberal government as it pursues a national energy and environment agenda.
Nationally, 58 per cent of respondents either agreed or somewhat agreed that Canada should proceed with a carbon tax to reduce GHG emissions even if president-elect Donald Trump takes the United States in a different direction, according to the Nanos poll, which surveyed 1,000 Canadians between Dec. 16 and Dec. 19. The national figures have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
As well, two-thirds of respondents either supported or somewhat supported the Liberal government's decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will triple the volume of crude oil shipped from Alberta to Vancouver harbour for export to Pacific markets and dramatically increase tanker traffic.
"What the research suggests is that the middle-of-the-road course the Liberals have taken on pipelines and climate is acceptable to a majority of Canadians," Nanos Research founder Nik Nanos said Thursday. "The exception is anywhere where you have a high attachment to the energy economy and a high level of sensitivity to anything that could undermine carbon energy."
Respondents living in the resource-producing prairie provinces wholeheartedly supported the Trans Mountain pipeline approval, but some 60 per cent of respondents disagreed – either strongly or somewhat – that Canada should proceed with carbon taxes if a Trump administration does not pursue climate action.
Support for a carbon levy was highest in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, at 74 per cent and 70 per cent respectively. All regions endorsed the Liberal decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Even in British Columbia, where opponents are launching lawsuits and threatening civil disobedience campaigns, 54 per cent of respondents supported or somewhat supported the pipeline approval.
Mr. Trudeau travelled to Western Canada this week to defend his government's energy and climate policies, which includes a plan to impose a carbon levy on any province that refuses to do so and meet a minimum threshold on its own.
In British Columbia, Mr. Trudeau insisted the government is ensuring the environment will be protected as crude exports rise, and he vowed not to be swayed by opponents who are promising to mount campaigns to stop it. The next day in Alberta, he said his government will press ahead with carbon-pricing plans regardless of what path Mr. Trump takes after his inauguration on Jan. 20.
He said it is important for Canada to have a credible climate policy to win markets for its expanding oil sands sector, but at the same time insisted that growing emissions from the industry will not derail Ottawa's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many environmentalists accused the Prime Minister of undermining the climate agenda by approving pipelines that will enable growth in the oil sands.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has led the opposition to Mr. Trudeau's carbon pricing plan, saying it would undermine the competitiveness of resource-dependent provinces like his and scare away investment. In Alberta, conservative politicians are campaigning aggressively against Premier Rachel Notley plan to introduce a carbon tax Jan. 1.
Mr. Nanos said the public support for carbon taxes may be strong now, but could drop once consumers start feeling the pinch. However, the federal plan would ramp up slowly, starting at $10 a tonne in 2018 and rising to $50 a tonne in 2022, a level that would increase gasoline prices by 11 cents a litre.
Conservative MP Mark Strahl said the Liberals are attempting to follow a "Goldilocks approach" after approving Trans Mountain and another pipeline expansion into the United States, while rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline that was planned for northern British Columbia. He said that rejection flew in the face of the independent regulator's recommendation to approve it.
Mr. Strahl predicted the plan to increase carbon taxes would come back to haunt Mr. Trudeau and his provincial allies. "As a concept, people are willing to give it a look, but in practice, you will find it very difficult to sell. As it increases, people will react negatively."