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Environment trumps economy, poll suggests

From Monday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Promising jobs and growth has been a central theme of political platforms ever since American strategist James Carville coined the phrase "It's the economy, stupid," to explain Bill Clinton's rise to the U.S. presidency.

But Canadians appear to be turning that conventional wisdom on its head as they grapple with the country's response to climate change and global warming.

A Strategic Counsel survey for The Globe and Mail and CTV found 62 per cent of those polled said Canadians would be willing to have the economy grow at a "significantly slower rate" to reduce global warming.

Pollster Allan Gregg said Canadians would be unlikely to tolerate a major downturn in the economy because of environmental policy, but people do seem ready to make some personal sacrifice.

"I truly believe that there is a willingness on the part of the average Canadian right now to say, 'If I have to put a little water in my economic wine to bring forward a solution to global warming, I'm prepared to do that now,' " he said.

The dramatic rise in production from Alberta's oil sands has played a key role in Canada's economic strength in recent years, but the survey suggests a willingness to give up some of that growth.

When asked if Canadians would support slowing or reducing the development of the tar sands in Northern Alberta, 48 per cent said there would be support and 32 per cent predicted opposition to the idea.

The survey of 1,000 Canadians was taken between Jan. 11 and 14 and is accurate to within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The results come as federal politicians debate a range of possible policies to address global warming. Committee meetings on the government's main environmental legislation, the Clean Air Act, start today, setting the stage for weeks of inter-party battles on the issue.

The Strategic Counsel gauged public support for a range of policy options that are in the public debate, producing results that are sure to be of interest to all political parties. The results also provide insight into the Conservative government's actions to date.

Two measures that have been promised by the Conservatives -- higher fuel-efficiency standards and forcing consumers and industry to switch to alternative fuels -- rank No. 1 (86 per cent) and No. 2 (80 per cent) in terms of what Canadians are most likely to support.

Taxing industries based on the amount of carbon emissions they produce is perceived as the third most popular option, with 79 per cent of those surveyed predicting Canadian support.

Delivering a program to tap into that support would require some word play on the part of some parties. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion say they oppose a carbon tax on fuels that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increase global warming.

But they also promise to force companies that exceed government-set targets for greenhouse-gas emissions to pay extra for those emissions.

Fourth on the list of policy options is the banning of electricity-generating facilities that use coal.

A survey released in October revealed that coal-fired plants are the country's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The Conservatives cancelled a Liberal plan to give Ontario millions to phase out its coal-fired power plants.

Support for sacrifices

Which of these measures would you support to reduce carbon emissions?

Raising fuel standards for vehicles and appliances; 86%

Consumers and industry switching to alternative fuels; 80%

Taxing industries based on carbon emissions; 79%

Banning coal fueled electrical generating facilities; 62%

Setting limits on fossil fuel consumption; 56%

Reducing development of Alberta's oil sands; 48%

Higher prices for gasoline and home heating fuel; 31%


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