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COMMENTARY: Climate change is the issue of our times — unless you’re an Ontario voter

COMMENTARY: Climate change is the issue of our times — unless you’re an Ontario voter

The world’s big thinkers tell us that the most important issue facing humanity is climate change. And, most of us agree with them.

We also agree about both the cause and the potential cure for climate change: we need to reduce the human activities that put carbon into the earth’s atmosphere.

What does this have to do with the Ontario election? Plenty.

One of the signature policies of the incumbent Liberal Party is leadership on climate change. And, since most of us care about helping the world’s climate, this should be a winning issue for the Liberals.

A carbon tax is effective policy, despite what 7 in 10 Ontarians think

Not in Ontario though. At least not now. That’s because the effects of the Liberal’s approach to dealing with carbon, including changes to hydro rates and carbon pricing, has helped to galvanize a potential winning coalition around Doug Ford and the PC Party.

For many voters this no longer about helping the climate, it’s about increasing taxes, affordability, and government mismanagement.

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What happened? While most Ontarians agree on the need to do something on climate, they don’t give it the same level of priority that the Wynne Liberals do.

The Wynne government sees fighting climate change as one of its top priorities, but Ontario voters rank it number eight behind issues such as increased taxes and increasing hydro rates.

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Even if voters are aligned with the prioritization the Liberals have given to climate (which they aren’t), they now see the NDP as better able to deal the issue. So, even the voters who care most about climate now see the NDP as the better option.

What’s also happened in this election is that the emphasis in the phrase “carbon tax” has moved from the “carbon” to the “tax.” And, since voters are more concerned about taxes than climate today, the cure for too many seems worse than the disease. This is especially the case for voters who are more pessimistic about the economy.

Evidence of how public views have aligned against the Liberal’s management of the climate issue emerges when you ask Ontarians if the carbon tax is just a tax grab: 72 per cent agree.

This includes 85 per cent of PC voters, 72 per cent of NDP voters, and even 54 per cent of Liberal voters.

Another 68 percent of Ontario voters also agree that a carbon tax is nothing but a pointless gesture that won’t help the earth’s climate.

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When you add it up then, carbon pricing has become a political millstone around the neck of the Ontario Liberal Party in this election.

This won’t end with the Ontario election. That’s because the Trudeau Liberals, like the Wynne Liberals, have made carbon pricing a cornerstone issue for their mandate.

Based on what we’re now seeing, this issue could also represent an electoral liability for the federal Liberals in Ontario. And, the situation won’t be helped by a Premier Doug Ford who has vowed to fight the pending federal climate tax if he is elected on June 7.

Darrell Bricker is CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.

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