Trudeau Liberals will appeal to moderate Metro Vancouver voters, tout climate policies to gain support for Trans Mountain pipeline construction
A new poll suggests British Columbians are staunchly opposed to the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline and the Liberals could lose up to 40 per cent of their vote next election. Will Justin Trudeau back down?
The province-wide online survey was commissioned by Dogwood Initiative, a Vancouver-based environmental group fighting the pipeline project and the expansion of the Alberta oil sands.
The survey appears to be bad news for Kinder Morgan, the project proponent. If Trans Mountain is approved, 40 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents, where Liberal support is concentrated, say they would be less likely to vote Liberal and 31 per cent of Liberal voters will abandon the party next election. Six out of ten respondents oppose more oil tankers off the West Coast. A majority of Liberal voters would consider a TMX green light as a betrayal of Trudeau’s election pledges to protect the environment.
“Justin Trudeau’s government was brought to power by a surge in youth voter turnout and a consolidation of the progressive electorate,” said Dogwood campaigner Sophie Harrison in a press release.
“If he approves Kinder Morgan’s Texas tanker proposal, a lot of that support is going to collapse.”
The study was conducted from Nov. 17 to 21 among 805 adult British Columbians. The data was statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in BC. The margin of error, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for each sample, nineteen times out of twenty.
But what does this poll really tell us?
That Trans Mountain and Kinder Morgan are very unpopular in Vancouver and Burnaby? Even a casual follower of this story knows that much.
Taking the Dogwood poll at face value, Trudeau – who is expected to approve Trans Mountain any day now – appears to have no path forward, no strategy available that can save Liberal seats or his five BC cabinet members.
Then why would the Prime Minister bother to fight such an unwinnable war?
Let’s look at the Liberal strategy from another perspective, courtesy of David Coletto of Ottawa-based Abacus Data, which polled Canadians in mid-Oct. about federal climate policies and energy infrastructure projects, like pipelines.
The most important conclusion to come out of the poll – and a subsequent one in Nov. on Canadian oil production – is that Canadians are very pragmatic when it comes to the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy technology.
Canadians support the shift to renewable energy, but they also support oil and gas production and the infrastructure to get it to market. This is particularly true if their governments have policy in place to protect the environment.
“There are strong voices on either side of the energy/environment debate, but most average Canadians are somewhere in the middle,” David Coletto, Abacus CEO, said in an interview.
“They recognize the importance of our country dealing with the climate crisis, dealing with carbon emissions, but at the same time, they’re not willing to completely give up on the energy sector and see the importance of that to the country, that they almost want a balanced approach.”
This desire for a balanced approach to energy is most striking when Abacus asked respondents whether they would support a new pipeline while the Canadian government put in place “measures to encourage a shift to renewable energy.”
Seventy-six per cent of respondents across the country would support or accept this approach. The numbers were slightly higher in British Columbia, with 42 per cent supporting and 36 per cent accepting.
Coletto says the Liberal strategy – summarized in Trudeau’s comment at a Vancouver conference this spring, that the country needs both wind turbines and pipelines – resonates with voters.
“I think the reality is that the majority of the country is where Mr. Trudeau is. Some want him to go farther than he’s going and some will want him to maybe step on the brakes a little bit but I think there is now a consensus in the country that we have to do something,” said Coletto.
No surprise, the Trudeau Government has been busy making announcements that bolster Coletto’s view of its pipeline strategy; for instance, the introduction of a national carbon tax and $1.5 billion for marine safety on the West and East coasts.
What the Dogwood and the Abacus surveys show is both sides’ strategies heading into the showdown post-Trans Mountain approval.
Opponents will target the Liberal coalition in Vancouver, particularly young voters, who Coletto says are more supportive of a quick energy transition and more likely to openly oppose pipelines.
The Liberals will tout their climate policies and appeal to moderate voters, who are most likely to endorse policies that create jobs and generate tax revenue (and who will care that the Liberals forecast a $113 billion cumulative deficit during their government).
The public battle over Trans Mountain will be lengthy, dirty, and probably violent. Expect civil disobedience from opponents and plenty of direct action targeting pipeline construction, perhaps even more pipeline tampering (such as the five Canada to US pipelines that were shutdown by Climate Direct Action activists in Sept.).
Trudeau has a strategy. Canadians will soon see how well his government and his party executes it.