What do Manitobans truly think about climate change?
The provincial government was criticized this week for asking Manitobans to complete an online survey as part of a public consultation toward developing a "made in Manitoba" climate change policy. From March 3 to March 31, visitors to the provincial government website (gov.mb.ca) could complete a survey that provided detailed explanations and followup questions regarding the pricing of carbon emissions, conservation measures and ways by which people are reducing their ecological footprint.
To be clear, online consultation surveys are a legitimate means of engaging citizens on important issues. This tool is an effective way of gathering input, particularly open-ended qualitative feedback, from citizens who are interested in a specific topic. But even though more than 6,000 responses have been submitted, critics are quite correct to point out the government cannot definitively conclude what Manitobans think about a climate change strategy through this survey. This is not a scientific survey of a representative sample of Manitobans, as anyone — even non-Manitobans — can complete the survey multiple times.
For the past decade, Environics Research has conducted the Canadian Environmental Barometer, which is a biannual survey of 2,000 Canadians exploring their views on energy and the environment. Although each wave includes small samples of approximately 150 Manitobans, we can provide a great deal of insight regarding what Manitobans think about these issues.
For instance, we do know that Manitobans, like other Canadians, are deeply concerned about the effects of a changing climate. Manitobans support the policy actions that other governments across the country are taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, Manitobans are also more likely to prefer a co-ordinated national effort on this issue rather than having provinces develop and execute their own individual strategies.
First, the vast majority of Manitobans are concerned about climate change and the effects it will have on their province and the broader world. Nearly half are extremely or definitely concerned about climate change, with another one in three Manitobans somewhat concerned about this issue. Manitobans’ levels of concern about climate change are similar to those of other Canadians, and the number of people who completely dismiss this issue is extremely small.
Manitobans are also paying close attention to the strategies that other provincial governments have implemented to reduce emissions, including the "cap and trade" method of charging major emitters of greenhouse gases adopted by Ontario and the "carbon tax" model implemented in British Columbia and, more recently, Alberta.
Slim majorities of Manitobans believe to some degree that these two strategies will lead to reductions in emissions.
Although Manitobans express the same types of concerns about these approaches as other Canadians — namely, that these strategies may not actually reduce emissions and, in the case of a carbon tax, that it is a method for perpetually cash-strapped governments to collect more tax revenue — there is nonetheless an appetite in Manitoba for putting a price on carbon. People are sufficiently concerned about climate change that they put aside whatever concerns they have about the approach so that some action is taken to reduce emissions.
Indeed, our research shows that nearly three in five Manitobans are in favour of a provincial carbon tax.
However, only about one in 10 strongly supports this measure, with the remainder expressing moderate approval for taxing emissions. Although Manitobans opposed to implementing a revenue-neutral B.C.-style carbon tax in this province remain in the minority, this opposition is much more rigid as about one in four is strongly against introducing this type of levy here.
Manitoba stands alone as the only province that has indicated it will not sign on to a national climate strategy, as Premier Brian Pallister and his government have signalled they will develop a "made in Manitoba" approach to this issue. Even though 45 per cent of Manitobans would prefer to see provincial governments develop their own strategies, the majority (55 per cent) would actually prefer to see Manitoba take part in a broader national strategy.
Those Manitobans who prefer a provincially crafted approach are more similar to their Prairie counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan, whereas the majority more closely resembles residents of Ontario, British Columbia and even Quebec, where an overarching national strategy is the preference.
Climate policy is a complex, nuanced issue, but Manitobans clearly want their government to meaningfully address this challenge, and to do so in a way that aligns with what is being done elsewhere in Canada.
Curtis Brown is a senior research associate with Environics Research, a national public opinion and research consultancy (environicsresearch.com). Prior to joining Environics in 2016, Curtis spent eight years with Probe Research, a Manitoba-based public opinion research firm, and has previously written for the Winnipeg Free Press and Brandon Sun.