Polling response demonstrates once again that eco-activists and industry boosters are out of step with average Canadians
What does social license for Canadian pipelines look like? If you’re Justin Trudeau, probably a lot like the recent Abacus Data poll in which 76% of respondents support building a pipeline while Ottawa puts in place “measures to encourage a shift to renewable energy.”
Measures like a carbon tax or regulations to reduce fugitive methane emissions from energy production. Just the kind of policies the Trudeau Liberals have either announced or are working on.
I first predicted a “carbon for pipelines” political deal shortly after Rachel Notley was elected NDP premier of Alberta in May, 2015 (here’s an example of many such columns). And I wrote this piece for Canadian Business this past summer explaining Prime Minister Trudeau’s three-point plan to approve at least two pipelines, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion to the West Coast and TransCanada’s Energy East to eastern markets.
The past 18 months have been tumultuous ones for Alberta as oil prices plunged and tens of thousands of workers lost their good paying energy jobs, the NDP forecast a $10 billion budget deficit, and the Canadian oil and gas industry faced a political onslaught from eco-activists determined to block any pipeline construction.
But the energy transition approach – which is North American Energy News’ analytical model through which we understand energy issues and news – is catching on with voters.
Abacus released its public opinion poll – Climate, Carbon, and Pipelines: A Path to Consensus? – on Tuesday and it is a treasure trove of insights into Canadians’ shifting view of energy issues and politics. The online survey included 1,500 Canadians aged 18 and over from Oct. 7 to 12. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians. The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 2,010 is +/- 2.6%, 19 times out of 20.
In typical Canadian style, voters have moved away from a binary debate with Alberta and Saskatchewan demanding tidewater access for their oil and BC, Ontario, and Quebec opposing energy infrastructure, to a compromise position where progress on climate change policies and clean energy technologies is the prerequisite for public approval of pipelines.
Abacus principals Bruce Anderson and David Coletto asked how people would feel about a plan to “shift Canada’s energy use over the coming decades, including incentives to promote cleaner transportation and buildings, and pricing carbon to encourage a shift towards greater use of cleaner energy.”
The pollsters found that 86 per cent “support or can accept a plan along these lines, including majorities in every region of the country, including substantial majorities in the Prairies and across party lines.”
Then respondents were asked, “let’s imagine that while putting in place these measures to encourage a shift to renewable energy, the federal government also approved a new pipeline to get Canada’s oil and gas to new markets, would you strongly support, support, accept, oppose, or strongly oppose such a decision?”
Three out of four Canadians (76%) would support (41%) or accept (35%) this approach. And according to the Abacus press release, that included 80 per cent of Liberals and 62 per cent of NDP voters.
Support was strong across the country, even in areas usually seen as hot spots of pipeline opposition: BC (78%), Ontario (78%), Quebec (64%).
“Going forward, the numbers suggest there is a path to creating more comprehensive national support, with a blend of carbon pricing, incentives to promote a shift in energy use, and adding pipeline capacity to get Canada’s oil to markets while a shift towards more renewable energy is underway,” said Anderson.
Yes, there is a path. The Trudeau Government is treading it, as are the NDP in Alberta, the Wynne Liberals in Ontario, and the Clark Liberals in BC.
Which leads to two observations about Canadian energy politics going forward over the next few years.
One, Canadian eco-activists have been outfoxed, outflanked, and out-maneuvered. Greenpeace, the Dogwood Initiative, mayors Gregor Robertson (Vancouver) and Derek Corrigan (Burnaby) and Denis Coderre (Montreal), alt-media like the National Observer and The Tyee, have all boxed themselves into anti-pipeline positions that are now out of sync with Canadian voters.
They can still make life difficult for governments supporting pipelines and oil sands expansion, but it is unlikely they can stop energy infrastructure projects.
Two, energy boosters – especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan – have been proved wrong. They criticized Notley and Trudeau for making concessions on climate mitigation policies, incorrectly assuming that the grant of social license would be provided by eco-activists – which is a silly argument at best, as I pointed out in this column.
All along, the objective was to change the minds of Canadians in the political middle – not the far left eco-activists nor the far-right energy boosters – as Energy Minister Jim Carr explained to me in an interview for the Canadian Business article.
The strategy is working.
As Anderson noted, there is now a clear path to public acceptance (i.e. social license) of new pipelines. At the very least, expect Trudeau to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline project in Dec. And the odds of Energy East being built are looking better all the time.