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Twin polls suggest slim majority of Albertans support oil and gas emissions cap

EDMONTON — Most Albertans would support some kind of national cap on carbon emissions from the oil and gas sector, two new polls suggest.
A flare stack burns off excess gas at a processing facility near Crossfield, Alta., Tuesday, June 13, 2023. Most Albertans would support some kind of national cap on carbon emissions from the oil and gas sector, two new polls suggest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Most Albertans would support some kind of national cap on carbon emissions from the oil and gas sector, two new polls suggest. 

The polls, conducted by different polling firms at the same time with the same questions, come after Alberta Premier Danielle Smith warned Ottawa last month not to test the "resolve" of Albertans to oppose such measures. 

"(The results) conflict with the narrative that our current government is telling Albertans and Canadians that Albertans do not support this kind of action," said Joe Vipond of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, which commissioned the polls.

"Our polling suggests that's not correct."

The federal government has promised to bring in a cap on oil and gas emissions this fall. Smith has pledged to fight any such legislation, calling it an enforced production cap. Alberta has a 100-megatonne emissions cap on its books, although it's never been implemented. 

The association hired the polling firms Leger and Research Co. to conduct the online surveys of more than 800 Albertans between Aug. 25 and 27. 

The polling industry's professional body, the Canadian Research Insights Council, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population. A random sample of 1,000 respondents would have a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Neither pollster was aware of the other's work. Both used the same questions, including, "Would you support or oppose setting a nationwide emissions cap on oil and gas carbon pollution in Canada?" 

Leger found 57 per cent of respondents were at least somewhat in favour. Research Co.'s finding was 62 per cent in favour. 

That rough agreement adds confidence to the results, said Mario Canseco of Research Co.

"The numbers for each of the samples are pretty much bang on," he said. "I feel good because everything is similar."

The Leger poll, with a slightly larger sample size, was able to break out some demographic results. Urban areas supported a cap by 62 per cent and suburban areas by 56 per cent, with 46 per cent of rural Albertans in support.  

Results from the twin polls didn't surprise University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley, who has been leading a long-term surveying project on Alberta called Common Ground. He said a decade's worth of polling suggest that Albertans are much more environmentally conscious than they're given credit for -- and than they give each other credit for. 

"Most Albertans feel that way, but they don't think the average Albertan feels that way. There's a false sense of social reality.

"Until that changes, until people's perceptions of public opinion catches up with public opinion, there's not much incentive for politicians to change their rhetoric."

Albertans do show less support than those in other provinces for environmental measures that would affect its oilpatch. A poll released Wednesday on attitudes toward climate change, conducted by Leger and commissioned by The Canadian Press, found a nearly 30-percentage-point difference between Alberta and Quebec in those concerned about the issue.

Still, a slim majority of 55 per cent of Albertans expressed some level worry. 

On Aug. 30, Smith's office released a statement in which she was quoted as saying: "Under no scenario will the government of Alberta permit the implementation of the proposed federal electricity regulations or contemplated oil and gas emissions cap. We would strongly suggest the federal government refrain from testing our government’s or Albertans’ resolve in this regard.” 

Vipond said the polling suggests otherwise.

"When (politicians) make statements like, 'Albertans do not support a just transition or an emissions cap,' those statements are not based in truth. Albertans understand that we cannot go on doing what we've done."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2023. 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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