07/15/2019 13:31 EDT | Updated 07/15/2019 13:53 EDT

Climate Change Is A Top 3 Issue In Canada’s 2019 Election, Abacus Data Poll Suggests

Respondents are most concerned about the cost of living.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer are shown in a composite image.

Climate change is poised to become a central issue in the next federal election, a new poll suggests.

According to numbers from Abacus Data released Monday, the issue is among the top three considered most important to voters this fall — and that could be good news for Liberals.

The firm asked respondents to identify the most pressing matters from a list of 17 issues that ranged from public transit and income inequality to the deficit and border security.

‘Central place in the public debate’

Thirty-five per cent of respondents identified the cost of living as a top concern, while health care finished second with 34 per cent, and climate change finished with 29 per cent. According to the report, it marks the first time in the firm’s research that climate change has captured “such a central place in the public debate.”

Rounding out the top six issues, 27 per cent chose taxes, while 26 per cent identified housing affordability. Twenty-five per cent selected “good jobs and wages.”

Indigenous reconciliation was the issue least likely to be seen as moving votes this fall. Chosen by just five per cent of respondents, it was below “backroom deals” at six per cent — a possible indication the SNC-Lavalin affair won’t be as top-of-mind for voters as some parties may hope.  

“Standing up” to U.S. President Donald Trump was identified as a top issue by just eight per cent.

Abacus Data
A graph from an Abacus Data poll released on July 15, 2019.

With polls already pointing to a tight race between Liberals and Conservatives, Abacus Data also asked about the voting intentions of respondents. The numbers give an indication of which party is seen to have an advantage on each issue.

Among those who prioritize climate change as a top concern, 41 per cent said they intend to vote Liberal, while 21 per cent chose the Greens. New Democrats scored 18 per cent support, while the Conservatives are well back at 13 per cent.

Liberals also outrank Tories on health care with 34 per cent to 29 per cent, respectively, as well as on the matter of housing affordability.

However, on the top issue ― the cost of living ― the Tories outperform Liberals 38 per cent to 30 per cent, and also score higher on taxes, and “good jobs and wages.” 

Tories also have some big advantages over Liberals on less popular issues, including the deficit, managing immigration, and border security.

Abacus Data
A graph from an Abacus Data poll released on July 15, 2019.

On the question of reducing discrimination — another issue in the bottom six — Liberals are ahead at 46 per cent, compared to just 18 per cent for Tories.

The numbers suggest the NDP does not have an issue that the party truly owns, though it scores best on income inequality and Indigenous reconciliation.

According to the results,Liberals would fare better if the election campaign centres on climate change, housing affordability, health care, and tackling discrimination, while Tories would perform better if the campaign boils down to pocketbook issues and questions about immigration and the border.

While Tories may struggle if climate change becomes the defining issue of the campaign, Abacus Data CEO David Coletto also thinks there are risks for Liberals on the topic. 

Though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government implemented a carbon price of $20 per tonne (rising to $50 in 2022), his government has also championed resource projects and purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The Liberals’ “more ‘middle-of-the-road’ approach, compared to the NDP and Green plans, may be deemed too modest for voters seeking a more ambitious climate agenda,” Coletto wrote in the report.

The climate plan unveiled by Tory Leader Andrew Scheer last month would scrap the Liberal carbon pricing system, and ask big polluters to invest in green technology. Scheer is also pledging a new “green homes tax credit” for Canadians who make green retrofits to their homes.

Similarly, while Conservatives have a clear advantage on securing the border and managing immigration, those issues could present hazards on the campaign trail.

Abacus Data’s chairman, Bruce Anderson, wrote in the report that “Conservatives remain vulnerable, as they were in 2015, on issues of equality and discrimination.”

In the last election, Tories faced accusations of xenophobia for seeking to ban the wearing of niqabs during citizenship ceremonies and a proposed RCMP tip line for “barbaric cultural practices.”

“Pressing on the immigration issues often carries the risk of being seen as playing to the intolerant, a risk heightened in the context of an election where [People’s Party Leader] Max Bernier is pitching hard at this issue, and where Donald Trump is pursuing this issue aggressively as well,” Anderson wrote.

The poll was conducted online among 3,092 voting aged Canadians between June 28 and July 2. A similar survey would have a margin of error of 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.