Jason Disano, director of the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research (CHASR) at USask. (Photo: Submitted)
Jason Disano, director of the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research (CHASR) at USask. (Photo: Submitted)

Assault weapons ban, climate change action divisive: Prairie residents

Prairie residents are in lockstep with fellow Canadians in saying COVID-19 and the 2021 federal election were the two biggest issues that divided the country over the past year.

But Prairie residents are far more likely than other Canadians to believe that fighting climate change divides the country, and also more apt than Ontarians and Quebecers to say that the ban on assault weapons is an issue causing disunity.

The findings are from Taking the Pulse of Canada, a quarterly national survey conducted by the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research (CHASR). In all, 1,011 Canadians contacted via landline and cellphone between March 7 and March 24 responded to the survey, done for the Canadian Press.

CHASR conducted a similar survey of 400 Saskatchewan residents for the CBC between Dec. 1 and Dec. 30 with several of the same questions and found that nearly 80 per cent believed the province had become more polarized. At the time, 83 per cent of respondents identified the pandemic as the main reason, with more than 70 per cent also saying the 2021 federal election had caused disunity.

These numbers are not much different from the latest poll, which counted Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba together as the Prairies to get a statistically valid sample nationally. The latest survey shows 75 per cent of respondents nationally, and 83 per cent in the Prairies, saying the country has become more polarized over the past year.

“They key issue is not whether the divide among Canadians is real or perceived,” said CHASR director Jason Disano. “Just the fact that people perceive that we are becoming more divided in Saskatchewan and in Canada is a major concern that those in government and policy need to be attuned to,” he said.

“Now more than ever, we are seeing politicians using that division for political benefit when those leaders should be seeking to unite us, not divide us.”

Among other survey findings:

  • More than 55 per cent of respondents nationally believe providing international aid is an issue that united Canada. Disano said this response likely was influenced by the federal government’s high-profile promotion of its contributions to help Ukraine in Russia’s war against the country.
  • Increased ethnic diversity is also uniting Canadians, say 53 per cent of respondents.
  • Among real-world impacts of divisions, 40 per cent of respondents nationally said they had reduced contact with friends or loved ones over differing views, with disagreements over COVID-19 predominating. The figure is closer to 50 per cent for the Prairies and British Columbia. Those over age 55 are less likely to reduce contact over differences of opinion.
  • Prairie provinces and the Atlantic region are more likely than Quebec to say that the Canadian-American relationship divides Canadians.

The results of the survey yield a margin of error of +/- 3.08 per cent nationally 19 times out of 20, meaning the results can be considered reliable 95 per cent of the time.

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