Canadians are warming up to the prospect of paying an environmental tax on activities that cause climate change, but they don’t necessarily expect to get the money back in the form of income tax cuts, a new poll has revealed.
The McAllister Opinion Research survey, commissioned for the Pembina Institute – an environmental research group – and obtained by Canwest News Service, revealed that Canadians would be supportive of a federal carbon tax and would like to see its new revenues invested in improving energy efficiency and clean energy technologies.
When told that the government of British Columbia had recently introduced “a carbon tax on fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” 72 per cent of those surveyed in the poll said that this was a positive step versus 23 per cent who thought that it was a negative step. The poll surveyed 1,009 Canadian adults across the country between April 29 and May 9, 2008 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Jason Doud, a research analyst at McAllister, said he’s not surprised at the results since his firm’s recent polls have consistently revealed that Canadians are more concerned about the environment than other issues.
“The support for B.C.’s carbon tax is fairly uniform across Canada,” he said. “Six out of 10 people definitely support it when you look at the numbers.”
The strongest support for a carbon tax appears to come from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces where 81 per cent and 77 per cent of respondents respectively said that the B.C. tax was a positive step.
The findings come as political parties in Ottawa are publicly feuding over whether an environmental tax would be the best way to fight global warming and protect the earth’s ecosystems. The Conservatives and the NDP have been arguing in favour of introducing a cap and trade system that would allow the market to set a price on pollution by regulating limits on emissions from large industrial facilities. The trading system would force the biggest polluters to buy permits on a public stock exchange from greener companies that are reducing emissions.
The federal Liberals and the Green party both support a cap and trade system, but are also proposing to introduce a “tax-shifting” policy that would impose a carbon tax for everyone in the economy, including consumers, that would be offset by reductions in other areas such as income taxes. The Liberals have not yet explained details of their plan, apart from pledging to come up with a “revenue neutral” policy that would not increase the overall tax burden on individuals.
However, when asked how revenues from a proposed federal carbon tax should be spent, most Canadians told the polling firm that they would prefer to see more green spending, rather than income tax cuts.
For example, 47 per cent said that the new potential revenues should be spent on “renewable energy like wind and solar power” and 16 per cent said they wanted to see more spending on “energy efficiency technologies.” Only 11 per cent of respondents said carbon tax revenues should be used to cut income taxes, while eight per cent said it should be spent on public transit.
“I certainly think overall that (a carbon tax in a federal political platform) would bode well and at the very least Canadians are certainly receptive to the idea,” said Doud. “What Canadians are going to want to see, is they’re going to want to know that this tax is invested in the environment in some way.”
Last week, NDP Leader Jack Layton launched new attacks on the carbon tax proposal, arguing that it would punish low-income individuals who rely on natural gas or heating oil to keep their homes warm in the winter. But environmental groups responded by criticizing Layton, arguing that a carbon tax could be introduced alongside regulations for a cap and trade system for large industries.
“A carbon tax and a cap-and-trade program both put a price on pollution – they’re much more similar than Mr. Layton suggests,” said Clare Demerse, a senior climate change policy analyst at the Pembina Institute. “Our poll does support Mr. Layton’s call for investments in energy efficiency programs like home retrofits, but it also shows that Canadians want those investments to be in addition to carbon tax programs like BC’s. Canadians understand the urgency of global warming and they see that we need both approaches.”