‘Silent majority’ of Canadians wants more government action on climate change

The federal election is still months away, but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has signalled his intent to make the government’s carbon pricing plan a campaign issue.

Scheer has characterized it as a blatant tax grab. But in October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government would return 90 per cent of the money it collected in carbon taxes to Canadians.

It seems after Trudeau explained how the plan would work, more people got on board: An Angus-Reid report found that while 45 per cent of Canadians supported a federal carbon plan in July 2018, it had ticked up to 54 per cent in October 2018.

No doubt the prospect of another tax gives some people pause, but there is broader evidence Canadians want the government to step up efforts to protect the environment.

“There is a large silent majority with pent-up demand for government action on climate change,” said Bill Ratcliffe, a 30-year marketing veteran and member of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby Canada.

A recent Ipsos-Reid survey seems to bear this out — 75 per cent of respondents said Canada needs to do more to address climate change.

Ratcliffe, who teaches green marketing at the University of Waterloo, also pointed to a little-known 2018 report done by Ikea (yes, the Swedish furniture retailer) and Toronto-based consultancy GlobeScan. The international study included in-person focus groups and online surveys and found almost 90 per cent of people said they are “willing to change their behaviour to help fight climate change” — but that the biggest hurdle was government action.

The Ikea/GlobeScan study said those longing for more government action fall into three categories: “Optimists,” “Supporters” and the “Disempowered.”

Ratcliffe has worked in the public and private sectors, including an anti-smoking campaign with Health Canada in the 1990s. He said that for many people, the issue of climate change feels abstract or insurmountable. Being a marketer, he said “scientists and activist organizations have not done a good job of creating a positive image of the future that appeals to human aspirations.”

But he also said that when citizens do articulate their concerns, political leaders can’t help but act. One example he cited was a recent climbdown by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who dropped a section of a bill that would have compromised environmental protections in the province’s Greenbelt after politicians and residents in the affected communities raised concerns.

“The government doesn’t act unless they feel the hot breath of the will of the people,” said Ratcliffe.

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