Trans Mountain

41% of BC respondents support approval of Kinder Morgan pipeline, 34% are opposed

Get ready for a new pipeline, British Columbia, because a recent poll may have removed the last impediment to building the Kinder Morgan project.

Trans mountain

Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline route.

There are many arguments against the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, but one of the most important has always been that British Columbians are not, under any circumstances, prepared to risk despoiling their beautiful environment with a spill of “toxic” Alberta oil sands crude. As a consequence, residents and their governments, so the line goes, will never grant “social license.”

Consider this July 2 tweet from Norman Spector, Brian Mulroney’s chief of staff and BC redident, referring to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s hope that President Barack Obama’s “shout out” to Alberta’s climate policies would be heard across Canada: “Sorry to say it’s not being heard in BC, including by her own Party; no signs yet of social licence”

The “no social license for BC pipelines” narrative is so commonly accepted that it is never questioned. But there are, indeed, signs of social license if one simply looks.

A June 16 Angus Reid public opinion poll about the National Energy Board approval of TMX with 157 conditions, for instance.

BC residents were asked, “Do you think the NEB made the right decision or wrong decision in approving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion with conditions?” Pollsters found that 41% said it was the right decision and only 34% said it was the wrong one, while 25% were unsure.

That compares with a 2014 Angus Reid survey, taken when protestors were making national news opposing Kinder Morgan surveyors on Burnaby Mountain, that found 54% opposed the project. And a majority supported the protestors, not the company.

Clearly something has changed in the past two years. Are British Columbians more familiar – and therefore more comfortable – with the pipeline proposal after the NEB review? Have they simply resigned themselves to the inevitable?

The latest survey doesn’t provide insights into those questions.

But it does contain one very surprising conclusion. When asked if the project is likely to be built, 74% of BC respondents agreed it would be. This compares to 64% of Canadians and only 61% of Albertans, who were generally more supportive of TMX than their Western neighbours.

Given the combination of the noisy, well-oiled environmental protest machine and local grassroots opposition (cf. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan), one can forgive observers like Spector for assuming the Kinder Morgan pipeline is roundly opposed.

And we can debate whether a slim majority of poll respondents in favour provides such a contentious project with social license, or “legitimacy,” as political scientists used to call it.

But we should stop saying definitively that Trans Mountain Expansion has no social license.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted the online survey from May 30 – June 6, 2016, among a representative randomized sample of 1,505 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.