The environment is bumping out the economy as the biggest concern for Canadians as the new millennium approaches, a national opinion poll suggests. Asked to name the "greatest threat to future generations," 29 per cent of Canadians chose environmental pollution, compared to a 20 per cent rating for economic hardship, according to an Environics poll obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
Depletion of natural resources ranked third at 18 per cent, followed by wars and conflicts (15 per cent), diseases (10 per cent), and lack of food (five per cent). Just three years ago, the findings were dramatically different, with 19 per cent of Canadians citing environmental pollution and 40 per cent economic hardship. In fact, environmental concerns have not ranked higher in Canadians' minds over the economy since 1992, the polling company observes. Environics attributes the rise in environmental concerns to a general improvement in the nation's economy, which would include a balanced federal budget two years in a row, something that hasn't happened since 1951-52.
"This finding seems to support conventional wisdom that says people tend to worry more about the environment when their economic concerns go down," says the firm's Environmental Monitor quarterly report. Asked by Environics in January to name their top-of-mind concerns, Canadians listed unemployment 28 per cent of the time, health/medical 13 per cent, the economy nine per cent, taxes seven per cent, and environment two per cent.
Doug Miller, president of Environics International Ltd., said in an interview Friday from Toronto that when pollsters scratch beneath the surface, Canadians reveal their strong concerns for the environment. "Our trends indicate that at a deeper level, people's environmental concerns are growing," he said. "There is lots of stuff happening under the radar scope. Once people stand back, the environment is very significant." The poll also found that eight out of 10 Canadians believe that protecting the environment should be given priority over economic growth.
Canadians also generally believe that a healthy environment is compatible with a strong economy, and they don't buy the argument that environmental protection causes unemployment. When it comes to reducing industrial pollution, 41 per cent of Canadians support strict laws and heavy fines, while 27 per cent support tax breaks and incentives. The BC government ranked lowest of any province in Canada in terms of its environmental performance: 41 per cent of British Columbians gave their province a poor rating.
Twenty per cent of British Columbians also named nature conservation as a priority compared with 11 per cent nationally, and BC Hydro received the highest rating of any power utility in Canada for its environmental efforts.
The Environics national poll randomly surveyed 1,512 Canadian adults by telephone between March 31 and April 17. The results are considered accurate within 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.