More than nine-in-ten Canadians say marine shipping is generally ‘safe’, but many say they have reservations about shipping oil.  Trans Mountain Pipeline photo.

Uncertain trade between Canada and US boosts importance of marine shipping

The vast majority of Canadians believe transporting goods by sea is safe, and most say marine shipping is growing in importance in this era of heightened trade uncertainty between Canada and the United States.

These are some of the key findings of a new study conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with the Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping. The new public opinion poll builds on a benchmark study on public attitudes about the shipping industry first conducted in March 2016.

Today, the Canadian public places a higher degree of importance on marine shipping than it did back then. Greater numbers now say the industry is “critically important” to the Canadian economy, Canada’s access to imported goods, and Canada’s ability to access export markets than did so in 2016.

As they were in 2016, however, Canadians remain concerned about the prospect of oil and fuel spills, even as they express confidence that shipping is generally safe and well-regulated.

British Columbians tend to be most worried about the safety of shipping oil and gas in Canadian waters, while Albertans and those in Atlantic Canada – likely reflecting the prominence of petroleum industries in their provinces – are most confident.

More Key Findings:

  • An overwhelming majority of Canadians (94 per cent) say marine shipping is either “very safe” (30 per cent) or “generally safe” (64 per cent).
  • A significantly lower number – though still a majority – say they are “very” (18 per cent) or “somewhat” (43 per cent) confident in the safety of shipping petroleum products (61 per cent overall).
  • Oil spills are still a top-of-mind concern, with more than half (54 per cent) of Canadians mentioning the potential for such an incident as a major risk associated with the shipping industry.
  • This concern may reflect an overestimation of the number of oil spills Canada has experienced in the last decade. When given the official definition of a “major spill” (one in which 700 tonnes of petroleum or more are spilled – roughly equivalent to 1/3 of the volume of an Olympic swimming pool), most Canadians (68 per cent) guess that there have been at least three in the last 10 years. In fact, there have been zero (only 11 per cent of Canadians correctly guess this).
  • Three-quarters (75 per cent) of Canadians say they are confident in the rules and regulations governing marine shipping safety in Canada today. This is a 10-point increase from 2016.
  • However, many Canadians feel their provincial and federal governments pay too little attention to shipping safety (46 per cent say this) or oversight and enforcement (45 per cent).