January 3, 2019 1:31 pm
Updated: January 3, 2019 4:55 pm

Ottawa’s unpublished internal polls on federal carbon tax give edge to Trudeau

Global News has obtained some federal government internal polling on the carbon tax that Ottawa has imposed on Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. As David Akin reports, there are significant differences that are sure to shape the campaigns all parties will roll out ahead of this October's general election.

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Internal polling prepared for the Privy Council Office shows that the carbon tax-and-rebate program the Trudeau Liberals will impose on four provinces beginning in April is not necessarily as popular as the Liberals believe it to be, but it also doesn’t appear to be as unpopular as Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives are counting on.

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The raw polling data — 70 pages of which was obtained by Global News using federal access to information laws — shows sharp regional differences in attitudes when it comes to the carbon tax and other environment and energy issues. But there are also key gender differences in attitudes on those issues that are sure to shape the pitches all parties will offer ahead of this October’s federal election.

READ MORE: Confused about carbon taxes and rebates? Here’s what you need to know

And though there are different attitudes on energy and environment issues across different segments of Canada’s population, the internal polling shows that, as of early November at least, environment and climate change was, in fact, one of the top issues in the minds of respondents.

All respondents, for example, were asked to name the number one priority for the federal government. Respondents were not given a list of topics but were, in fact, asked to say whatever was on their mind.

For female respondents, the most common top priorities identified were ‘environment and climate change’ and ‘health care’ — tied for the top spot with 17 per cent each — followed by ‘education’, identified by nine per cent of female respondents as their top priority for the federal government.

Among male respondents, 20 per cent identified ‘economy’ as the most important priority for the federal government — tops among all subjects for men — followed by ‘environment and climate change’ at 11 per cent and then ‘debt / deficit / taxes / cost of living’ as the third most common subject, each of those picked by about six per cent of male respondents.

WATCH: New carbon tax takes effect in SK, MB, ON, NB

The Nov. 9 survey, the most recent survey obtained by Global News, probed Canadians’ attitudes about the carbon tax ‘backstop’ that began to be imposed on January 1 on Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, the four provinces that Ottawa says have not prepared an adequate plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the backstop, Ottawa will add a tax on April 1 on most fuels sold in those provinces, but will send a rebate to all households in those provinces. The federal government says that, for most households, the rebate, which will be applied on this year’s income tax forms, will exceed any anticipated higher energy costs.

READ MORE: Liberals say 90 per cent of carbon tax will be given to Canadians in rebate

The Nov. 9 survey asked respondents if they support or oppose this plan. Among respondents in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 46 per cent supported and 44 per cent opposed the plan. In Ontario, 43 per cent were in support and 32 per cent opposed. Nationally, support was at 47 per cent and opposition was at 29 per cent.

But women were much more likely than men to support the carbon tax-and-rebate plan, with 50 per cent of female respondents giving it a thumbs up while just 21 per cent opposed. Men were more skeptical, with 43 per cent supporting the plan and 37 per cent opposing.

WATCH: Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer says Trudeau’s carbon tax won’t work

The poll then went on to ask respondents to list the reasons they either supported or opposed the carbon tax-and-rebate plan.

The most common reasons for supporting the plan were:

  • It is important and necessary.
  • It will protect the environment and planet.
  • It will reduce carbon emissions.
The most common reasons for those opposed to the plan were:
  • It is simply a tax grab by the government.
  • It is ineffective and will not work.
  • It’s too expensive.
  • It will hurt workers.

Those reasons for opposition almost perfectly match the talking points used by Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives as they campaign against the carbon tax. And it shows the challenge Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will have in convincing opponents of the carbon tax — most of whom are men — that whatever is collected will be returned to households in the form of a rebate that will exceed that amount of new tax paid.

The Nov. 9 survey also quizzed respondents on the just-concluded “New NAFTA,” or, as it is to be formally known in Canada, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). About half of the survey respondents generally agreed with the statement “This agreement is better than the alternative of not having an agreement,” but only 13 per cent agreed that “This is a better agreement than the old NAFTA.”

READ MORE: Is a carbon tax Canada’s best option to help the environment?

The contractor providing polling services for the Privy Council Office (PCO) is Forum Research Inc. of Toronto. Forum has a three-year contract worth about $1.1 million to provide weekly polling for the PCO.

Forum does not publish the results of the surveys it does for the PCO. Publishing the polling results is the responsibility of its client, the PCO.

The PCO is the federal government department that supports the activities of the prime minister, the minister of democratic institutions, the minister of intergovernmental affairs and internal trade, and the government leader in the House of Commons.

WATCH: Ontario, Saskatchewan premiers continue battle with prime minister over carbon tax

All government departments, including the PCO, are required to post all public opinion research paid for by taxpayers online at Library and Archives Canada within six months of the completion of any data collection project. None of the weekly surveys Forum has done under contract for PCO have yet been posted online by PCO.

“Survey results are and will continue to be published on the Library and Archives web site,” PCO spokesperson Stéphane Shank said. “The requirement is to provide the data and reports within 6 months of the completion of data collection. With the current [Forum] contract expiring in January 31, 2019, the data collected for the current fiscal year is to be made available by the end of July 2019.”

The Privy Council has published two quarterly reports on Forum’s methodology at Library and Archives. The most recent quarterly description posted there is from July 2017.

That July 2017 description of Forum’s methodology says it is surveying 500 Canadians every week using computer-assisted telephone interview technology in both official languages that reaches Canadians on both landlines and cell phones. The PCO selects or approves the questions to be asked, with input from other government departments.

Forum asked 60 questions of 501 Canadians for its Nov. 9 survey. Among those questions were 15 which asked for demographic information, such as age, gender, education level and so on which helps Forum weight the responses to match the general characteristics of Canada’s population.

In its July, 2017 quarterly summary, Forum said the weekly polling results are accurate to within 4.38 per cent.

Respondents are never asked who they voted for or who they planned to vote for or asked to rate the performance of any party or party leader.

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