“An election is no time to discuss serious issues,” former Prime Minister Kim Campbell was quoted as saying in the 1993 Federal election campaign. History has shown that did not turn out so well.
In the remaining weeks of this 2015 election, we will see each of the federal parties continue to discuss a wide variety of policy initiatives in an effort to garner support for the upcoming vote. From a public opinion perspective, however, what is the one issue that Canadians have foremost in their thoughts, and based on this, what might the underlying policy issue of the campaign be?
According to our research, the primary concern among Canadians is, by a healthy margin, the economy. Unprompted, by a gap of over 20 percent, Canadians mention the economy as the most significant issue facing Canada today. To varying degrees, the economy has continued to be a significant concern for almost seven years. And, notwithstanding very serious emerging issues, the economy will likely be underpinning the voters’ choice when they step into the voting booth.
You have likely heard the messaging of Canada being an energy superpower. Canada is in a leading position globally when it comes to natural resources. Across the country, there are resources that we have had the benefit of producing, and many more that can provide future economic benefits (despite the current over-supply and reduced price per barrel). As a country with the world’s third largest oil deposit, how do we take advantage of the opportunity to derive economic growth, in the right manner?
Based on this driving economic concern and Canada’s natural resource position, is this the issue for the parties to be debating? Should energy policy, how we produce it and manage its impacts, be a key ingredient to the parties’ policy positions?
Although by a modest margin, a majority of Canadians believe that our primary source of oil, the oil sands, are good for Canada, primarily due to their economic impact. Furthermore, there is also support for pipeline development to the three primary market access points, a key consideration if Canada is to maximize the benefit of developing its resources.
Alternatively, those who are not supportive of oil sands development cite the environment as their leading concern. In fact, whether you support or oppose oil sands development, the evidence suggests that most Canadians share a concern for the health of the environment – our research shows that a significant majority of Canadians believe that future economic growth is dependent on maintaining a healthy environment.
What does all of this mean for political parties as they lay out their policy positions? Our research suggests that Canadians would support a credible policy position that encourages development of the oil sands while at the same time ensuring mechanisms are in place to protect the environment. If Canada is to benefit from its vast resources, we must find effective ways to develop and transport them to market while also ensuring that we protect the environment. That is something that a majority of Canadians would support.