Three out of four Canadians want auto manufacturers to go electric, even if it hurts those companies' bottom line, a poll from Abacus Data shows.

The poll, commissioned by climate advocacy groups Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Ecology Action Centre and the David Suzuki Foundation, found 74 per cent of Canadians think car manufacturers have an obligation to shift their production to non-emitting vehicles. Moreover, if they don’t, 58 per cent of Canadians believe they should face stiff penalties.

“Automakers don’t want to shift towards making ZEVs [zero-emission vehicles] instead of gas cars at the pace required by a net-zero emission pathway because it means they’ll make slightly less profit,” said Environmental Defence clean transportation program manager Nate Wallance in a statement. “Canadians agree — automakers have a responsibility to clean up their act, even if it means they take a hit to their bottom lines.”

In Canada, four out of five new vehicles sold are SUVs, trucks or vans, while only 3.5 per cent of vehicles sold are electric, according to a report published by Environmental Defence last year. That said, the electric vehicle figure appears to be trending up, with 8.3 per cent of new vehicle registrations in the first three months of this year being electric.

The auto industry spends roughly 28 times more on advertising for vehicles with combustion engines compared to electric vehicles, the Environmental Defence report found. The reason why is the profit margins on larger gas-powered models, like SUVs, are far higher than for standard-sized vehicles. The report said on average, a base-model SUV is about $10,000 more than a base-model sedan.

That profit motive is driving General Motors and Ford, the two largest car companies in North America, to focus their production on gas-powered SUVs and trucks. The Environmental Defence analysis of production plans found those companies intend to build only 320,000 electric vehicles in 2026 compared to more than five million SUVs and pickup trucks.

The Abacus Data poll found the waiting time to buy an electric vehicle, as supply falls behind demand, makes 70 per cent of Canadians less likely to purchase an EV.

Waiting times vary across the country because the limited EV supply means the vehicles are mostly sold in provinces with zero-emissions vehicle sales requirements in place, like Quebec and British Columbia. For every 100,000 people, there are 37 and 26 electric vehicles to buy in Quebec and B.C., respectively, compared to three and seven in provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. In other words, tough luck for a region like Atlantic Canada, where wait times for vehicles can stretch three years

An industry report published last year by consulting firm Dunsky, found B.C., Quebec and Ontario held over 90 per cent of the country’s electric vehicle inventory. In 2020 and 2021, Quebec alone had half the country’s EV inventory, likely due to the province’s policies that encourage demand and a strong sales mandate, the report said.

The Abacus poll found 84 per cent of Canadians support a national zero-emission vehicle sales mandate to encourage wider use across the country.

Three out of four Canadians want auto manufacturers to go electric, even if it hurts those companies' bottom line, a poll from @abacusdataca shows.

Canada has put in place a 100 per cent zero-emission vehicle sales target for light-duty vehicles by 2035. Advocates want to see the target made mandatory because greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector hit 24 per cent of the country’s total emissions in 2020 — the second-highest behind oil and gas. Moreover, over the past three decades, emissions from the transportation sector have grown 32 per cent.

“The Government of Canada should move quickly to implement a strong ZEV standard with provisions for supply equity,” said Ecology Action Centre policy co-ordinator Thomas Arnason McNeil in a statement. “In bringing all of Canada under this regulation, the federal government needs to ensure that smaller provinces, including those in the Atlantic region, get our fair share of electric vehicles.”

In its 2030 emissions reduction plan, the federal government says it’s committed to developing a ZEV sales mandate that would require 100 per cent of vehicles sold to be electric by 2035, with milestones along the way, including 20 per cent of sales by 2026 and 60 per cent by 2030.

The Abacus Data online survey was done in late July and randomly sampled 1,500 Canadians. It comes with a margin of error of 2.53 per cent.

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Environmentalists who envision a sustainable future should not advocate for EVs.
Wrong prescription.

The decisions we make now about urban design set the blueprint for generations to come. Cars drive sprawl, and sprawl forces people to drive. We cannot undo sprawl.
Doubling down on cars (EVs) makes already difficult problems intractable and puts solutions out of reach. Forever.
We have a choice: the public good — or private benefits for the few, while perpetuating the same ills that car culture has inflicted on society for decades.

Doubling down on cars and sprawl is not a green solution.
The car culture problem does not get better by making it even worse.

We have a choice. We can either invest in the private automobile, car culture, and sprawl. Or we can invest in the public good: transit, cycling, and smart urban design.
Sinking public dollars into private cars just slows public transit down — and puts the only sustainable solution out of reach.
There is no evolution from more private cars and more sprawl to efficient public transit.
More private cars and more sprawl do not enable efficient public transit at some future date — they make it impossible.
If the goal is efficient public transit, it is self-defeating to promote car use and enable sprawl.
The supply of tax dollars is not infinite. Scarce public dollars spent on private cars are dollars not spent on public transit.

Once middle- and upper-class consumers are happily ensconced in their automobiles, there is no shifting them. There is no incentive for governments to invest in and improve transit if the vast majority vote for cars and EV subsidies.

Transportation policy and investment focussed on cars abandons the marginalized — the poor without political power, seniors, the handicapped, and environmentalists — without hope of essential mobility options. Mass transit does not work without the masses.

I support the use of tax dollars to support the vulnerable and marginalized Canadians — not middle- and upper class consumers who can afford their own cars and don't need subsidies. Handing out EV subsidies to wealthy people who don't need them while ignoring the transportation needs of people who cannot afford cars or choose not to drive is unjust.
I am all for public investment in public transit that incentivizes citizens to change. Free urban transit would be an excellent choice. Canada is desperately lacking in regional and national public transit options. That is where scarce tax dollars should flow.

Public transit in smart cities designed for people not cars is a public good. Public dollars for public goods.

"A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation" – Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogotá