Opinion

In B.C., support for climate action cuts across political lines. Here’s why

Photo by: James Wheeler

You might be tempted to think that amid an unparalleled pandemic, an economic crisis, and an unseasonably cool summer in B.C., climate action would not be a priority for British Columbians. You might also think that opinions on the aforementioned would be highly partisan.

If you thought those things, you would be wrong.

In fact, four in five (79%) B.C.ers say that the economic changes brought about by COVID-19 provide an opportunity to do more now to fight climate change. That’s according to a new poll of 802 British Columbians from Clean Energy Canada and Stratcom, conducted in June.

But here’s what’s really interesting: while 84% of BC NDP voters agree with the statement above, so do 77% of BC Liberal supporters. (Green support is a whopping 95%.)

That relatively narrow difference in opinion was quite consistent across questions—and may come as a surprise. After all, we live in a time in which we’re told the left and right have never been more divided. That may be true south of the border, but in B.C.? When it comes to climate action and investing in clean energy, at least, voters on both sides find common ground.

So, why does support cut across party lines? 

Recent weather events may have something to do with it. While this summer is off to a cool start, 2017 and 2018 were B.C.’s worst wildfire seasons ever. Many of the regions most affected were in the interior, ridings that tend to swing to the right-of-centre Liberals. For British Columbians, climate change evolved from an abstract problem to one that—in some cases—literally impacted their backyard. 

I recall a cab driver in Kamloops telling me last year that he’d felt like a prisoner in his own home when wildfire smoke blanketed his city. Things, he said, were different now.

But another key reason for this cross-party support is that climate action—and in particular, investing in clean energy and technology—is no longer seen as simply a moral imperative. In 2020, it’s increasingly understood to make good economic sense.

Our poll, for example, found that 85% of British Columbians support efforts to make our economy cleaner. Why? Well, roughly half (48%) of B.C.ers say provincial climate action will make our economy more competitive in the global marketplace, compared to just one in five (20%) who believe it will make us less competitive. And while NDP and Green supporters are most likely to believe in climate action’s competitive advantage, BC Liberal supporters also see the economic benefits (48% view it as an advantage versus 30% who consider it a disadvantage). The gap is even bigger among undecideds (41% versus 14%).

Looking at this another way, we asked where, specifically, the province should invest. From a list of 10 options, “clean energy and technology” came out on top with nearly two-thirds (64%) rating it as important—higher even than tourism and tech. “Oil, gas and LNG,” meanwhile, was chosen as important by just one-third (33%) of respondents.

In short, British Columbians know what kind of economy they want coming out of COVID. And the answer doesn’t look a whole lot different from any particular political vantage point. With a provincial election creeping ever closer, parties would be wise to pay attention.