The findings of the poll, conducted by Ipsos between Sept. 20-23 for Global News, shows that 27 per cent of voters believe that climate change is one of the top three issues this election. In those two provinces only health care and taxes ranked higher, respectively at 40 per cent and 30 per cent.
Peter Prebble, a Saskatchewan Environment Society board member and former NDP provincial public safety minister, said awareness of the effects of climate change around the world have raised the profile.
“In Canada our coastal areas are starting to be impacted by sea-level rise, we’re seeing more severe weather events across the country … and we’re seeing a much worse wildfire season in many parts of Canada,” he said.
“But also here in 2015 we had an unprecedented situation where 13, 000 people needed to be evacuated from northern Saskatchewan because of forest fires.”
He also said extreme weather around the world — severe hurricane and droughts causing the evacuations of villages in India — were affecting Canadians’ evaluation of climate change.
WATCH: Saskatchewan candidates discuss their party’s plan for addressing climate change
Joe Garcea, a political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan, agreed but said that political parties were also focusing more on climate change as a way to secure a better electoral outcome.
“They’re talking about it because it’s an important cleavage issue that really helps to separate certain individuals and helps them make a decision one way or the other,” he said, adding that this election won’t come down to a few issues like some previous elections have.
“This is … more like a scatter gun-type of a policy election,” he said.
Garcea told Global News he was “astounded” by the attention climate change was getting across the country, but said voters ranking it as a main issue didn’t mean they all believe in a carbon tax or even in climate change itself.
“It may well be that its people who are on two sides of the debate.”
He said that the interest is likely driven by “the perception that perhaps something needs to be done about climate change” and “the interconnection of climate change issues and with pipeline issues, carbon tax issues and ultimately pocketbook issues.”
He said the political focus on climate change was also a symptom of the main parties being so close in the polls.
They also said people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish advocate who recently spoke to the UN about climate change, draw more attention to the issue.
Prebble welcomes the attention, he said, because more needs to be done.
“The climate science community, the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, all of these bodies are essentially saying we have a decade to cut our greenhouse gas pollution in half.”
Both Prebble and Garcea said climate change will only become more important for voters as more are affected by it.
But any federal policy addressing it has to contend with five premiers who oppose a carbon tax.
Even with more attention being paid to the issue, any solution to climate change in Canada will rely upon a political agreement being reached.