Most Canadians want carbon tax reduced or killed: poll

The survey also gauged Canadian reactions to the federal government’s stated plan to make Canada ‘net zero’ by 2050

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A new Leger poll finds that a clear majority of Canadians want the carbon tax reduced or eliminated entirely — and that nearly everyone thinks that federal plans for “net zero” are unrealistic.

Of respondents, 55 per cent wanted the carbon tax reduced (18 per cent) or abolished (37 per cent), while 27 per cent were fine to keep it as-is. A mere 18 per cent said they agreed with the current strategy of raising carbon levies each year.

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While Alberta typically charts as the most anti-carbon tax jurisdiction in Canada, this time it was Atlantic Canada, where 48 per cent of respondents favoured total abolition of carbon pricing. The region first became subject to federal carbon levies on July 1, leading to a noticeable rise in fuel prices that spawned blanket opposition from all four Atlantic Canadian provincial governments.

The Leger results are in line with a polling trend that’s often shown itself among Western populations: Citizens support action on climate change, but mostly don’t want to pay for it.

“When you just ask people, ‘Hey do you support all these great things?’ they’re tripping over themselves to say yes,” said Andrew Enns, executive vice-president with Leger.

With this latest poll, said Enns, the idea was to steer clear of vagaries on climate change and gauge opinion on “a very specific policy that has a very specific economic consequence.”

“And on that it’s a very clear, ‘I don’t want to pay more,’” he said.

The average Canadian is currently paying about 14 cents of carbon tax on every litre of gasoline, and 17 cents for every litre of diesel. That rate rises automatically every April 1, adding roughly another three cents per litre each year.

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And that’s in addition to a battery of other fuel taxes, including federal excise tax, GST, municipal transit taxes and provincial fuel levies. In the Vancouver area, for instance, the local carbon levy of 14.31 cents per litre is dwarfed by the 27 cents tacked on by the province and municipal authorities.

But it all adds up to Canadians paying the highest sustained prices for fuel in our history, with knock-on effects throughout the entire economy.

A March report by the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer determined that even after federal carbon tax rebates are factored in, by 2030 most Canadian households will be experiencing a net loss from carbon taxes.

In higher-income jurisdictions such as Alberta (where fewer households qualify for rebates), the net cost per household of carbon levies is already estimated at around $507.

The whole purpose of carbon taxes is to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels by making them more expensive.

But the Leger poll found that even as most Canadians balked at higher prices, they largely didn’t seem to be changing their consumption patterns.

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Just 31 per cent of Canadians said they were now travelling less because of the carbon tax, and 30 per cent said they were driving less.

“We’re changing some behaviours, but I’m not sure we’re changing a lot,” said Enns. Even after a summer that saw gas prices nearing $2 per litre across the country, he noted that there was still no shortage of V8-engined trucks pulling fifth-wheel campers.

Enns says these results don’t necessarily signal a death knell for the continuance of carbon pricing in Canada, but they are a sign that policies to raise fuel prices can’t be pursued with the assurance that they’ll be accepted without question.

“Part of the issue for the government is that they probably have to be a little more aggressive about explaining these things,” he said.

The survey also gauged Canadian reactions to the federal government’s stated plan to make Canada “net zero” by 2050. While the country is currently one of the world’s largest per-capita emitters of greenhouse gases, the idea is to purge fossil fuels from the economy so aggressively that in 27 years Canada’s overall emissions will be effectively nil.

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Just 52 per cent of respondents had heard of the plan, and when its basic details were explained, a mere 15 per cent thought net-zero was realistic.

Respondents were about as skeptical about the first stage of the net-zero plan; a federal proposal to completely decarbonize Canadian electrical generation by 2035.

Given the disproportionately large share of Canadian electricity that is already produced by nuclear or hydroelectric dams, this isn’t too big of an ask for Canada — as compared to far more abstract plans to completely remove internal combustion engines from Canadian transportation networks.

Even still, just 19 per cent thought it was realistic.

The poll was based on an online survey of 1,564 Canadians, weighted by factors such as age, gender, mother tongue, region and education to provide a representative sample of the population. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size yields a margin of error no greater than plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20, for the Canadian sample.

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