New poll shows Canadians’ view of climate change determined by age and politics, not science

Source: Angus Reid Institute.

“This is why the big oil sands companies are my most trusted influencer when it comes to climate change: they have skin in the game.”

It’s safe to assume that no one reading this column is a climate scientist. Yet we, as citizens of a liberal democracy, are duty-bound to arrive at an informed opinion on one of today’s most controversial subjects. How do we do that?

If a new poll from Angus Reid is any indication, not by understanding climate science. Our views on climate change are shaped more by our age, where we live, and our voting history.

“Demographic differences between Canadians on age and political ideology largely drive differences on this quarrelsome issue,” the report argues.

Liberal and NDP voters overwhelmingly believe human-made emissions from transportation and industry are the cause of rising carbon dioxide, higher temperatures, and catastrophic weather events. The numbers are much smaller for Conservative Party of Canada supporters.

For instance, when asked if climate change is a fact and what causes it, over 80 per cent Liberal and NDP voters (81% and 85% respectively) agreed it’s real and humans are to blame, while only 35 per cent of CPC voters agreed. CPC voters were just as likely to blame the changing climate on natural causes, and one in five (21%) think it’s still an unproven theory.

That young Canadians 18 to 34 think climate change is a serious or major threat (84%) to the planet will surprise no one. But that senior voters over 55 are a bit more supportive of that belief (73%) than the 35 to 54 cohort (68%) may surprise some.

Much of that difference is driven by men, who tend to be more skeptical than women in all age groups.

Conservatives are also much more skeptical than Liberal or New Democrats about the source of climate change information. Only 57 per cent of CPC voters trust university scientists, compared to around 90 per cent for the other parties. Trust falls off a cliff for conservatives when assessing the validity of information from the UN (33%), the media (25%), and governments (21% federal, 29% provincial).

Overall, the residents of Alberta and Saskatchewan, as Canada’s most conservative provinces, are the most dubious about climate change and its impacts on weather and the environment.

A 2018 Abacus Data poll grouped Canadians into climate believers, leaners, and laggards. Alberta led the country in the lowest percentage of believers (29%) and the highest percentage of laggards (22%).

The easiest explanation is that Alberta is also home to the Canadian oil and gas industry, which drives the highest per capita incomes of the 10 provinces. Alberta’s prosperity is tied directly to the extraction of fossil fuels, and Albertans vote with their wallets.

But there is an anomaly in the attitudes of Albertans toward climate change that bears examination. After all, some of the most forward-thinking companies in Canada on climate are Calgary-based oil sands producers like Suncor and Cenovus Energy.

Source: Angus Reid Institute.

In fact, within the Alberta oil patch, oil sands producers have been leading the charge on the energy transition for over a decade, according to Dave Collyer, former Shell Canada executive and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers from 2008 to 2014.

“The horse has left the barn on carbon. I think there is significant global momentum around the need to address climate change so I think the debate around the science is largely over or should be over and I think it’s an issue that as a hydrocarbon-producing province and as obviously a hydrocarbon-producing industry we need to pay attention to it,” he said in an earlier interview with Energi News

Source: Angus Reid Institute.

Interviews with energy executives like Collyer and Cenovus VP Harbir Chhina, combined with the climate change and carbon risk reports from oil sands producers, have profoundly influenced my view of climate change.


Oil sands companies believe new energy technologies (think electric vehicles) and ever stricter climate policies around the world are ushering in a low-carbon global energy system. Those companies are spending billions of dollars to lower their emissions – thereby lowering the carbon-intensity of their heavy crude oil – so that they remain competitive as markets change over the next few decades.

Becoming “cost and carbon-competitive” is their new mantra.

In other words, they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

Take billionaire Murray Edwards of CNRL.

In late 2014, he helped spearhead a series of historic informal meetings between five oil sands CEOs and five executive directors of Canadian environmental groups. The ENGOs made exhaustive preparations for the first meeting, at a Calgary Italian restaurant, complete with data-filled presentations.

The CEOs listened for awhile, then Edwards interrupted the speaker and said something like, “Yeah, yeah, we know all this. We’re there on climate change. But what do we do about it?”

By the spring of 2015 the CEOs and ENGOs had come to an understanding that included carbon pricing, a 100 megatonne cap on oil sands emissions, and promises to reduce fugitive methane emissions from their oil and gas operations, all of which is reflected in the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan.

This is why the big oil sands companies are my most trusted influencer when it comes to climate change: they have skin in the game.

Note: The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from October 24 – 29 among a representative randomized sample of 1,500 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For
comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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  1. Would the oil and gas CEOs be on board if much of the oil and gas had to be left in the ground, and instead of almost doubling production to the ‘cap’ they were asked to halve it?

  2. The title implies that Canadians who agree climate change is human-caused believe so because of age and politics. I’d be surprised if that were the case. Perhaps a better title would be ‘Disbelief of science is determined by age and politics’.

  3. When I hear talk about oil companies surviving decades to be competitive while producing oil to be burned, I think those people talking don’t have enough information. If they knew that burning the oil we’ve already discovered, would push warming far past survivable levels, they might consider more sensible (yet “radical”) ideas to shut down major oil production by next decade.

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