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Why the Green Party fails to attract climate-concerned voters

By Marc Zwelling, President, The Vector Poll™

Saturday, May 13, 2023

For half a century Canadians have told polls they worry about the environment.

In 1970, in a Gallup poll, 63 per cent thought "the dangers of pollution" were "very serious." In 1989, pollster Angus Reid asked the public, "Would you support a political party that made protection of the environment its primary objective?"

Across the country, 19 per cent said they "definitely" would consider that party; another 52 per cent would "seriously consider it." In Ontario, 23 per cent said they would definitely support that party, and 48 per cent seriously consider it.

Yet, wherever the Green Party runs, in federal or provincial elections, its support dramatically lags the voters' avowed concern for the environment.

In an Ipsos poll before last year's Ontario election, only 13 per cent of voters who said the environment was one of their most important issues intended to vote for a Green Party candidate. In the election the Greens got 6 per cent. In a Vector Poll in January this year 8 per cent supported the Greens. In April, in an Angus Reid Institute poll only 6 per cent were "most likely" to vote Green.

Those who resisted legislation to curb fossil fuels shrewdly framed the choice facing voters as jobs or the environment. Possibly the first poll on the tradeoff was a 1990 Gallup survey asking Canadians, "What do you think is more important — to create jobs or to protect the environment?"

The poll found that 58 per cent said protect the environment, 29 per cent said create jobs (13 per cent had no opinion). But this strong verdict in favour of the environment was misleading. Canadians want a painless, inexpensive transition to a green economy.

In an Innovative Research Group poll last year, 38 per cent agreed "putting a price on pollution is one of the best ways to lower carbon consumption and to fight climate change" But 45 per cent agreed, "The carbon pricing policy is just another tax grab that hinders the economic development of the country and does nothing for the environment."

The same poll underscores the public's ambivalence: 41 per cent agreed "fossil fuels should be phased out as quickly as possible to speed up the shift to a lower-carbon future even if it means job losses or paying more for energy, " but 57 per cent agreed "it is critical to Canada's ongoing prosperity that we responsibly develop and export our oil and gas resources."

This year, 60 per cent said no when Ipsos asked, "Are you prepared to pay more in taxes to help fight climate change?" In March, 37 per cent told Ipsos that lowering taxes should be federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland's priority in her recent budget, while only 12 per cent said "spending to support the transition to greener energy."

Like other Green Party leaders, Ontario's Mike Schreiner wants voters to see the Greens as more than a single-issue party.

"We're demanding better care for patients," says a recent Green Party fundraising letter. A new donor appeal from the Ontario NDP says, "We can invest in and grow our public health care system…." Greens are "standing up for young people who need an affordable place to call home."

The diversification strategy is failing because the more the Greens campaign on different issues the more they become indistinguishable from other parties. Instead, the Greens should double down on the environment to engage environmental voters.

Schreiner could promise a Green government will use the $6 billion a year Ontario spends to subsidize hydro prices to give cash rewards to individuals and businesses who reduce their energy consumption.

He could pledge to get thousands of CO2-emitting vehicles off the road by giving drivers financial incentives to buy or lease an electric car, provided they scrap a fossil-fuel-burning vehicle.

He could promise a Green government will replace — one-for-one — any job eliminated by the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Every business faces the choice to specialize or diversify its products, customers or services. For the Greens diversifying isn't working. They need to specialize.

This article was first published in the Toronto Star on Sat, May 13, 2023.

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