As Canadians prepare to head to the polls, some political experts say climate change could become a ballot issue for Manitobans this election.
From the devastating wildfires and scorching temperatures to extreme drought and flooding, nearly all Manitobans have felt the impact of climate change over the past year and pollsters said it could become a wedge issue this September.
“Every election we sort of try to debate climate change and it’s a little bit of a sort of a sleeper issue,” Probe Research partner Mary Agnes Welch told Global News.
“Voters say they care about it, but whether they traditionally voted based on that, I think is a whole other matter.
“This election might actually be the first time when it becomes genuinely a little bit of a ballot issue for some of those swing voters.”
While Probe Research, a market and public opinion research company, has not done direct polling on climate change and this election campaign yet, Welch said the recent weather events, pointing specifically to the drought conditions across Manitoba, have more people in urban areas opening their eyes to the issue.
“It isn’t just sort of a farm issue that urban residents don’t always experience and understand. It’s also kind of a Winnipeg experience where all of our gardens and our grass and that sort of thing are suffering,” she said. “So I think this might be the first time we’re actually like, ‘Oh, wait, is this is this what it’s going to be like?'”
However, Welch said climate change will also be competing with other top priority issues many voters and politicians will be focusing on.
“Is climate change really going to trump getting out of the pandemic and economic recovery from the pandemic? I think those fundamentally are probably the issues that will still define this campaign,” she said.
“But maybe for the first time, climate change will actually be a thing that is like kind of the big thing that is in the back of voters’ minds.”
For many, Welch said it comes down to how the issues personally impact people, their pocketbook and their family.
“Trying to find those key sort of wedge issues that really sway votes on a national level is, like, the No. 1 tricky thing that parties have to do, and often there isn’t one big issue,” she said.
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Carbon price and climate change
The carbon price in Manitoba has been a tricky issue. Premier Brian Pallister initially rejected the idea of a price on carbon when it was imposed by the Trudeau government in 2016.
In 2020, the province implemented a flat $25-per-tonne green levy, along with a one per cent PST cut.
Calling it a made-in-Manitoba carbon levy, Pallister said the federal government “ignored” their attempt to work together on climate change.
“We have no choice but to act now to protect Manitobans from the rising federal government carbon tax they are bringing in this year,” he said.
Pallister said he wanted to see special exemptions for the province due to its hydroelectric infrastructure.
Pallister originally planned the $25-per-ton levy in 2017, but withdrew it when the federal government said it was not high enough.
The federal government then imposed its own $20-per-tonne tax on Manitoba and three other provinces and increases by $10 a year every April until it hits $50 a tonne by 2022.
“I suspect Canadians are kind of fed up with the wrangling over carbon taxes and different approaches … (with) each province having its own kind of slightly different approach to climate change, which, frankly, has not produced much movement,” she said.