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Graham Saul, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa pose for a photograph January 14, 2015 in Ottawa. DAVE CHAN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

dave chan The Globe and Mail

Suburban Canada, where SUVs fill driveways and folks seem more preoccupied with hockey schedules than climate change, may seem an elusive target for the environmental movement.

But it is on those manicured streets that the fight over pipelines, tankers and oil-sands expansion – and the Canadians who can be swayed to cast a federal ballot to curtail them – is in full swing.

Political candidates who are just now putting their electoral machines in gear are well behind the environmentalists who have been campaigning in targeted ridings for months and, in some cases, years.

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As non-partisan agencies, they say their overriding goal is to ensure that the environment is top of mind at the local level and that all candidates understand its importance to the people who will cast ballots.

But the environmentalists also acknowledge that unseating Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be a welcome result of their efforts.

"The battle for the soul of Canada is being fought in suburban areas around Canada's major cities," says Graham Saul, the executive director of Ecology Ottawa, which has been sending teams door to door for the past two years in the riding of Ottawa-Orleans – a seat currently held by Conservative MP Royal Galipeau.

"We knocked on 15,000 to 20,000 doors last year. Last summer, we knocked on every door in Orleans and some twice," Mr. Saul said. "The response is very favourable."

Historically, the environment has been a difficult sell during federal election campaigns. Stéphane Dion's Liberals tanked in 2008 on a promise of a carbon tax. And conventional wisdom says that when the economy is not strong, environmental concerns are supplanted by those that affect the pocketbook.

Nik Nanos, the president of Nanos Research, says the environment has not been a top priority of most Canadians for the past six years, perhaps because federal politicians have not been talking much about it.

But in some parts of the country, especially suburban British Columbia and Quebec, the environment is definitely on the radar, Mr. Nanos said.

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"If those environmental groups are looking at ridings in those particular regions, it probably makes a lot of sense," he said. "The outcome of the next election is uncertain. Every single riding will count. So, if you are [an] environmental advocate and you can swing five ridings out of one column into another, that could actually have a significant impact on the outcome of the next election."

Campaigning on the promise of a carbon tax would be a large risk for any political party, said John Bennett, the executive director of Sierra Club Canada.

"But there is a huge appetite out there for actually taking real environmental protection," said Mr. Bennett, whose group is a charity and does not take part in political activities, such as door-knocking. "I think there are points to be made for political parties this year to talk about climate change."

The Dogwood Initiative, an organization that aims to engage Canadians in environmental issues, is campaigning in three ridings in British Columbia and may expand its teams to as many as six more.

The work has been localized because all politics are local, says Will Horter, Dogwood's executive director.

While there are many ridings in which environmental issues are way down the list of voters' priorities, there are others in which it will be the deciding factor, and many of them are in British Columbia where Mr. Horter is convinced the 2015 election will be won.

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Dogwood and other groups with similar agendas are not targeting every seat, he said, but choosing the battlegrounds where the environmental sentiments are strong.

Mr. Saul said that is the reason his team has selected Ottawa-Orleans. It is a seat that has been held by both Liberals and Conservatives, and it's a place where environmental issues seem to have traction.

Ecology Ottawa gets behind candidates – whether Liberal, New Democrat or Green – whom it considers to be environmentally progressive and to have the best chance of winning.

"We are talking about strategic voting in cases where that's most likely to result in environmental leadership," Mr. Saul said. He is confident that his work is paying off.

"I think there is something in the air," Mr. Saul said. "I think parties that put themselves out there as trying to solve problems like the energy conflicts and public transportation and real transportation options are going to be appealing to people and those who wander around and say we can't afford to do anything are going to be seen an unimaginative and ultimately unprogressive."

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