British Columbia demonstrates that pipeline projects can succeed even against vociferous opposition
Vancouver pollster Shachi Kurl has a message for skeptics who think Quebec opposition will sink the Energy East pipeline: more British Columbians now support the Trans Mountain Expansion project than oppose it.
Kurl is the executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, which released a poll in June showing that 41 per cent of BC residents approved of the National Energy Board’s decision to green light TMX with conditions, versus 34 per cent who disapproved. Angus Reid has also polled Canadians on their about Enbridge’s Northern Gateway (Alberta to the West Coast) and Energy East (Alberta across Canada to the Maritimes) in separate polls.
The polls show that the two provinces with the highest levels of opposition to new pipelines, British Columbia and Quebec, have large regional differences in their opinion about energy infrastructure projects.
“Both Quebec and British Columbia on the issue of energy versus environment are provinces and populations that are fairly split,” she said in an interview.
“What can sometimes translate into an assumption is that everybody in BC is against pipelines or believes that wrong decisions are being made to go ahead with pipelines. That is not true. What is true is that BC is a province divided on this issue.”
Using BC as an example, Kurl says opposition to pipelines is strongest in Burnaby (the terminus of the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline and the proposed expansion), Vancouver, and along the coast. But she notes that the further one moves east into the Fraser Valley or the Interior or the North, support grows.
“Metro Vancouver, the coastal communities, they see themselves as having the most to lose by environmental mishap and are most likely to be opposed either because of very tangible fears of environmental mishap or simply because of their politics,” said Kurl.
“There are communities in Northern BC, communities that are more energy dependant, those who are more conservative in their thinking – big C and small c – and for them there is a support for pipelines because they see this as something that can really drive the economic engine of British Columbia and lift any economic woes that the province may be feeling.”
According to Kurl, nowhere in Canada is opposition to the building and installation of pipelines, to transporting oil, higher than it is in British Columbia.
But Quebec is a close second.
“When the question is protecting the environment or encouraging economical growth,we see the same kind of division in Quebec as in BC. It’s not a perfect split, but it is a very close split and one that really divides the province,” she said.
Which raises a question for oil industry supporters and the Justin Trudeau Government: If Quebec is as divided over pipelines as BC, but the Western province has moved to mild support for the Kinder Morgan project, why can’t the same thing happen in La Belle Province with Energy East?
Why should it be assumed that vocal opposition in Montreal means vocal opposition throughout the province?
The National Energy Board review of Energy East won’t be completed until 2019 at the earliest. That leaves over two years for TransCanada and the Canadian energy industry to make its case before Quebecers.
As Kurl points out, a province divided on pipelines doesn’t necessarily mean a province uniformly opposed to pipelines.
And if the Prime Minister approves the Kinder Morgan project this December, as is now widely believed, then 41 per cent support appears to be all that is needed.
TransCanada, and the industry, needs to work harder at building support in Quebec and stop complaining about opposition in Montreal.