Albertans, the federal election and climate change

·8 min read
Malina Adams has made climate change a top prioirty for herself in this federal election campaign. She says she wants a plan from the parties that will mitigate the damage from the looming 'climate emergency.' (Malina Adams - image credit)
Malina Adams has made climate change a top prioirty for herself in this federal election campaign. She says she wants a plan from the parties that will mitigate the damage from the looming 'climate emergency.' (Malina Adams - image credit)

Malina Adams brings a unique perspective to the climate change debate.

As a 44-year-old mother of a five-year-old, she wants the federal parties to better prepare for the "climate emergency." But as someone who works in the oil and gas sector, she's a strong defender of an industry that's often targeted by environmentalists and politicians.

She is one of many Calgarians speaking out during the election about climate change — a move that can be considered bold and brave in a province where advocating for a cleaner environment is often seen as opposing to Alberta's oil and gas industry.

Adams wants to prove that theory wrong.

She moved to Vancouver Island in 2004 to finish her university degree and was introduced to what she calls an amazing group of scientists, activists and Indigenous leaders.

"They really opened my eyes to the issue of climate change," she said.

She was studying political science and started working with environmental activist Briony Penn in her campaign as a Liberal candidate in the 2008 federal election. Penn was one of her professors at the University of Victoria.

Adams says her time on the West Coast helped shape who she is today. She's someone who believes more needs to be done about climate change and is concerned with how the government plans to mitigate damage from droughts, forest fires, floods and catastrophic storms.

"How will we minimize the loss of human life and property over the next 50 years of climate upheaval?"

"It's really scary what's happening. I look at my son, and I'm like, 'what are we leaving for you?'"

She started in the oil and gas industry in Alberta 10 years ago working in Indigenous engagement. She says the current regulations to produce and transport oil and gas in Canada are the most "rigourous in the world."

"If we aren't using Canadian oil and gas, we're importing it from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and other countries that do not have the same rigour in place in terms of human rights and environmental standards," she said.

CBC Vote Compass data suggests climate change is a big issue in the federal election for many Albertans.

Jesse Shopa is an accounting and finance professional in Calgary. He describes himself as a one issue voter, and right now he says climate change takes precedence over any other issue.

"For me, it's No. 1 because I feel that many of the issues in the election are sort of underpinned by climate change," he said.

That includes food, water and housing security. He says economic stability and growth are also top of mind, but it's climate change that's the most important to him.

"Not that, you know, the penultimate focus on climate change is going to solve all those issues. But it will help to alleviate some of those concerns and pressures I think a lot of Canadians feel."

Adams believes the Liberal plan, which will increase the national price on carbon to $170 per tonne by 2030, along with other measures, will likely have the most success at cutting emissions by at least 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The party has since said its plan will go even further and reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent over the same period.

Her concern with the Liberal Party is that she feels it's blaming Alberta for all of Canada's emissions problems.

"It comes at the expense and cost of an industry that is keeping Canada afloat," she said.

"I feel like the Liberals have kind of swung so far that they're losing touch with reality."

Adams says the Conservative plan is "solid," but she's skeptical as to whether it will work to reduce emissions right away.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press
Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Instead of the rebates offered under the Liberal system, the money collected through the Conservative carbon pricing scheme — up to a maximum of $50 per tonne — would be diverted to "personal low-carbon savings accounts" to be used by individuals to buy "green" products.

"There seems to be some question on whether it will actually slow down emissions, or if it's going to take four or five years to slow down emissions versus the Liberal climate plan, which is already in motion and it's already working," she said.

Shopa is disappointed the major parties plans don't offer enough detail.

"The policies that I've seen today from the majority of the parties are still relatively vague and they do a poor job of communicating how their climate policy will actually impact voters directly," he said.

He wants to see a plan that benefits all regions of the country without adversely affecting others, such as Alberta's oil and gas sector.

Shopa says he does like the Liberal pledge to create a $2-billion "futures fund" to help retrain energy sector workers who may lose their job in the transition to a "net-zero future."

"Climate policy doesn't have to come to the detriment of one specific group, or demographic, it can be deployed in such a way that benefits everyone," he said.

He would like to see a plan that includes further development of renewable energy resources in Alberta, such as wind and solar.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Vote Compass, a civic engagement tool that helps voters find out how their views align with those of the parties, asks Canadians how much this country should do when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Approximately one out of five respondents from Alberta (22 per cent) say not much needs to change, it's the highest rate in Canada, followed by Saskatchewan and Manitoba residents, who answered "about the same as now."

Three out of four of the 300,609 initial respondents say Canada should do more to cut back, with more than half saying much more needs to be done.

Climate change has emerged as the top issue of this election among those using the online tool. Nearly one in three list it as their top issue.

Vox Pop Labs
Vox Pop Labs

About four per cent say Canada should do less while 14 per cent of respondents indicate the status quo is enough.

Those voters who support doing much more when it comes to climate change primarily align themselves with the Green Party, the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and to a lesser extent the Liberals.

Those who indicate they intend to vote for the Conservatives were split. About 50 per cent say the government should do more to limit emissions, but 49 per cent say Canada should do the same as now, less or much less.

More respondents than not say the government should make Canadians pay (either the same as now or more) for the carbon their lifestyles emit. About 26 per cent of respondents suggested Canadians should pay "somewhat more" than we do now.

Vox Pop Labs
Vox Pop Labs

Most Canadians agree more needs to be done

University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas says the Vote Compass results show that everyone across the country is "pretty much on the same page" when it comes to the question of whether the government needs to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But she says there are obvious regional differences. In Alberta, she says, more people are tied to the oil and gas industry, so reducing emissions could impact livelihoods. In Quebec, she notes, it might be easier for someone to say more needs to be done to reduce emissions because there isn't an immediate threat of job loss.

"Whereas in Alberta or Saskatchewan the task is larger, there's more people who are emotionally identified with oil and gas as an industry. And so they're more likely to be a little bit more skeptical."

Thomas says her research shows it's also misguided to assume people take a certain stand on issues based on their political leanings.

She says it would be wrong to assume that people who support the Bloc Québécois want to separate from Canada, just as it would be wrong to say Conservative Party supporters don't want to take action on climate change.

"There's a reason why [Conservative leader] Erin O'Toole has to say, in his campaign … that they have a proper environmental policy, because there are people who are prepared to vote for them but they still want to see action on the environment," Thomas said.

New voter, strong message

Jayden Baldonado is about to celebrate his 18th birthday, a milestone that will occur just four days before the federal election, allowing him to vote for the first time. He has identified climate change as his No. 1 issue and will be supporting the Green Party in the riding of Calgary Shepard, a conservative stronghold.

Baldonado says his views were solidified with this summer's release of the UN's scientific report on climate change that prompted the UN's chief to say it was "code red" for humanity.

"I'm just looking for a leader who will be able to guide us in a quick transition to a renewables-based economy," he said.

"I think we need to phase out the fossil fuel industry almost immediately and replace it with a national grid of renewable resources."

Jayden Baldonaldo
Jayden Baldonaldo

Baldonado says volunteering for the Green Party in a riding with strong support for the Conservatives can feel "pointless." But he says it's important to spread the message that action on the environment needs to be accelerated.

"And hopefully, more people are realizing and becoming aware of the fact that this is a crisis, and we need to act immediately."

Regardless of their political leanings, the view of most Albertans — 60 per cent, according to Vote Compass — is that more needs to be done, either here at home or abroad.

"As a Canadian citizen, I believe Canada is doing enough," said Adams.

"As a global citizen, I believe globally we are not doing enough."

We want to hear from you. Take a minute to fill out this form and let us know what you want the candidates to be talking about as they try to win your vote. We'll read every answer and use them to help guide our broader election coverage.

Notes on Vote Compass

Developed by a team of social and statistical scientists from Vox Pop Labs, Vote Compass is a civic engagement application offered in Canada exclusively by CBC/Radio-Canada. The findings are based on 300,609 respondents who participated in Vote Compass from Aug. 14, 2021 to Sept. 7, 2021

Unlike online opinion polls, respondents to Vote Compass are not pre-selected. Similar to opinion polls, however, the data is a non-random sample from the population and has been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample. Vote Compass data has been weighted by gender, age, education, household income, first language, region and partisanship to ensure the sample's composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to census data and other population estimates.

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