Saturday, January 27, 2007

Canada and the climate crisis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What do Canadians care about? With another federal election coming up this spring, in all likelihood, what issue do we place above all others? The climate crisis, according to a new poll:

Anxiety about environmental change has climbed so quickly within Canadians' consciousness that it now overwhelms terrorism, crime and health care as society's greatest threat, says a poll that kicks off a major Globe and Mail examination of the issue.

The Globe and Mail/CTV News survey delivers a number of messages for politicians, including a warning that the government not abandon Kyoto and a desire that Canada make a significant contribution to resolving global warming.

But the overarching finding is the speed with which Canadians have accepted that global warming is a large problem. The issue will also have a profound effect on the next election, as voters decide which party has the best plan to fix the problem.

The Liberals, currently the official opposition in the House of Commons, are in good position on this issue, not least because their new leader, Stéphane Dion, is a committed environmentalist. Although Dion didn't have the celebrity status of a Michael Ignatieff or a Bob Rae at the leadership convention, the Liberals may have been unwittingly prescient in selecting Dion. They picked the candidate who can best address Canadians' chief concern, whether they knew it at the time or not.

No wonder, then, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's conservatives have turned environmentalist on us -- or at least want us to believe they have. They've been against Kyoto and they've hardly been environmentally progressive. But they can read the polls. They know what Canadians care about. And they know they need to respond if they are to stand any chance of winning the next election.

Of course, other issues, not least our military commitment in Afghanistan, will be debated before we head to the polls. But it says something about this country -- something extremely positive, I believe -- that we are turning our attention, our political attention, to the foremost challenge of our time.

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