Shovels in the ground: More than half of Canadians say Liberals made right decision in approving TransMountain expansion

Shovels in the ground: More than half of Canadians say Liberals made right decision in approving TransMountain expansion

But will it be built? Six-in-ten say yes, while four-in-ten say they’re not convinced

June 21, 2019 – Indigenous rights, economic debates, provincial tension, climate change and environmental protection; all of these are at the core of not only the TransMountain pipeline expansion (TMX) saga, but also the nearly four years of Justin Trudeau’s government.

The Liberals’ fortunes in October will likely hinge on their ability to convince Canadians of their triumphs, or at the very least, positive momentum, on these important files, and in this respect, the decision to approve the TMX appears for now, to be a political win.

A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that a majority of Canadians (56%) side with the government in its decision to approve the pipeline twinning. Indeed, support outpaces dissent by a ratio of more than two-to-one nationally (56% to 24%).

How much public favour the government will gain from this decision remains to be seen, however, as the highest levels of praise come from Alberta (85%) and Saskatchewan (71%). Both provinces are projected to offer little electoral support to the Liberals in the forthcoming election.

Meanwhile, one-quarter (24%) say the government made the wrong choice, rising to three-in-ten in British Columbia (30%) and two-in-five (40%) within Quebec. Both of those provinces are considerably more competitive heading into the campaign.

While oil patch workers likely breathed a sigh of relief after the approval announcement, uncertainty about the fate of TransMountain still remains. British Columbia Premier John Horgan said immediately following the announcement that his government will continue to fight the project all the way to the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, six-in-ten Canadians (59%) say the expansion will be built, though four-in-ten are either unsure (28%) or disagree (12%). Notably, the percentage saying the project will be completed rises to seven-in-ten in B.C. (69%), where local protests have already begun.

More Key Findings:

  • 58 per cent of Canadians say they support the TransMountain pipeline expansion, rising five points from 53 per cent at the beginning of this year. Support in British Columbia is statistically unchanged from January, at 54 per cent, while support in Alberta is highest in the country (87%)
  • More than four-in-five Canadians who are considering the Conservative Party (85%) in the coming federal election say they support the TMX. This drops to 56 per cent among would-be Liberals, and one-in-three (33%) among those considering the NDP or the Green Party.
  • The government’s performance in handling Canada’s pipeline capacity is a considerable source of division. One-quarter (27%) say the Liberals have struck the right balance in attempting to increase capacity, which includes approving TransMountain and the Line 3 replacement, while rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline. The rest are divided evenly between saying the Liberals have done too little (37%) or have been pushing too hard on this file (35%).
  • The primary concerns for Canadians, both those who support and oppose the TMX, are the possibility of a tanker spill due to increased traffic in the Burrard inlet (68% choose this) and the increased burning of fossil fuels from pipeline expansion (66%).


About ARI

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.



Part 1: Views of TransMountain pipeline expansion

  • Most say government made the right call in approving TMX

    • A political win?

  • Majority support holds in B.C., but opposition rises

    • Stronger opinions in Western Canada

  • Six-in-ten say the pipeline will ultimately be built

  • How much weight should local opposition carry?

Part 2: Federal government performance

  • Environment vs Economy

  • Doing enough to increase pipeline capacity?

  • Doing enough to protect the environment

  • Concerns centre on tanker traffic and climate change


Part 1: Views of TransMountain pipeline expansion

Most say government made the right call in approving TMX

The announcement made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 18 was unsurprising to many. After extending the deadline to approve or reject the twinning of the TransMountain pipeline between Edmonton, Alberta and Burnaby, British Columbia, in order to further consult with Indigenous communities that may be affected by the project, Trudeau announced that the project would indeed go forward. This marks the second time the federal Liberal government has approved the project, which it purchased last year for $4.5 billion.

The announcement was praised by the provincial government in Alberta and immediately condemned by B.C. Premier John Horgan. While Horgan has been committed to opposing the pipeline since taking office in 2017, he faces the risk of being at odds with the majority in his province.

Nationwide, 56 per cent of Canadians say that Trudeau and his cabinet made the right decision in approving the expansion, while 52 per cent say this in B.C. One-in-three B.C. residents (30%) disagree, though they are outpaced by Quebec in this sentiment, where it rises to 40 per cent.

Albertans are overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with more than four-in-five (85%) saying the federal government made the right call.

*Note, small sample size, interpret with caution


A political win?

In an election year, this decision undoubtedly carries political considerations. The Trudeau government has attempted to balance economic priorities and environmental protection, as the Prime Minister looks to persuade Canadians of all political stripes to support his party’s pursuit of a second term in October.

The decision is received favourably by three-quarters (76%) of those considering the Conservatives in the coming election (see end of report for political sphere definition), and nearly two-thirds of those considering the Liberals (65%). Further, more than one-in-three would-be NDP or Green supporters agree, though these groups are far more divided, as shown in the following graph:

Majority support holds in B.C., but opposition rises

As one might expect, the number of Canadians who support the TransMountain pipeline expansion (58%) closely mirrors the proportion who say the government made the right decision in approving it (56%). Outside of Quebec, a majority of residents in every region canvassed say they support the project. Within that province, only one-in-three (35%) would like to see it built.

*Note, small sample size, interpret with caution

In British Columbia, support for the pipeline twinning has outpaced opposition over the past 18 months, and that trend continues. Notably, however, while support is unchanged from the beginning of 2019, opposition has risen six percentage points, and ten points since last June. Four-in-ten B.C. residents now oppose the TMX (38%).

Stronger opinions in Western Canada

One notable aspect of this issue is the intensity of opinion it generates in different parts of the country. Western Canadians, those west of Ontario, are more likely to hold strong views regarding the pipeline expansion than their eastern counterparts. In Alberta, nearly twice as many residents (75%) have a strong opinion as in Quebec (44%) and Atlantic Canada (43%).

Three-quarters of Albertans (75%) and seven-in-ten Saskatchewan residents (68%) strongly support the TMX, while Quebec residents are the most likely in the country to strongly oppose it (30%). The difficult political situation for Premier John Horgan in British Columbia is made clearer through this lens as well. One-in-three British Columbians (34%) strongly support the TMX while one-quarter strongly oppose it (23%), suggesting his government will face backlash from a significant group of constituents, regardless of the fate of the project.

*Note, small sample size, interpret with caution


Six-in-ten say the pipeline will ultimately be built

During his announcement to approve the TMX, Prime Minister Trudeau said he hoped to have “shovels in the ground” soon. Trans Mountain Corporation, the government-owned company tasked with building the project, has reportedly already received 30 per cent of the pipe necessary to complete the project, but there are still regulatory hurdles, as well as expected protests and further legal battles to contend with.

For their part, most Canadians say they believe the project will be built, but a significant amount of uncertainty remains. Overall, six-in-ten (59%) have faith that the pipeline will be twinned eventually, while one-in-ten (12%) say that it will not, and three-in-ten (28%) remain unsure:

*Note, small sample size, interpret with caution

Two-thirds of those who support the project have confidence that construction will be completed, while a majority of those who oppose it agree. A significant number within both groups are unconvinced:


How much weight should local opposition carry?

The TransMountain expansion has faced significant opposition from residents in British Columbia. This has come from both Indigenous groups, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and environmental groups, who are concerned about emissions and increased tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on the day of the announcement that the concerns of Indigenous communities and environmental groups still remain.

For those who oppose the project, local opposition carries a significant amount of weight. In fact, more than four-in-ten opponents (42%) say that local communities should be allowed to veto the project entirely if they find it unacceptable. Those who support the project are unlikely to give local opposition much weight, if any:

Regionally, British Columbians are evenly divided on this question of whether or not local opposition should be a factor in the decision-making surrounding pipeline projects. In Quebec, a majority say it should be, whereas the rest of the country is inclined to disagree:

Part 2: Federal government performance

Environment vs Economy

The Trudeau government has dealt with its fair share of criticism from both sides of the political aisle on the natural resource file. The government position has been that the economy and environment work hand in hand. The latest example of this sentiment comes with the announcement that every dollar earned from the government owned TransMountain expansion will be used to fund Canada’s clean energy transition away from fossil fuels. The importance of representing both sides of the economy versus environment debate is rarely more apparent than when asking Canadians which of the two is the biggest priority for them.

Just over half (55%) say the environment is paramount when considering how to utilize Canada’s natural resources, while just under half (45%) say the economy should carry more weight when evaluating this issue. These proportions are both significant, and vary considerably by region:

*Note, small sample size, interpret with caution

Those considering the Conservatives in the coming election lean heavily in favour of an economic growth emphasis, while at least three-quarters of Canadians considering the Liberals, NDP and Green Party say the environment should take precedence.

Whether or not Trudeau is seen as effectively walking the tightrope when October comes around remains to be seen, though Canadians do offer some insights into his government’s performance thus far.


Doing enough to increase pipeline capacity?

Much of the criticism aimed at the government from Conservatives, both federally and provincially, has been centred on the idea that the Liberals have not been doing enough to increase pipeline capacity for Canada’s natural resource sector. The federal government rejected the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in 2016, on the same day that it approved the TransMountain expansion for the first time and also gave the green light to the replacement of the Enbridge-operated Line 3 pipeline running from Alberta to Wisconsin. The political and regulatory skirmishes of TransMountain have largely overshadowed the 1,070 kilometers of pipe already completed along the Line 3 route to the United States border, though delays in Minnesota are now hampering the American portion of the pipeline.

Canadians are divided largely along political lines over whether or not the federal government has been striking the right balance on creating more pipeline capacity. Seven-in-ten potential Conservatives say that the government has done too little (71%), while only one-in-ten of those considering other parties agree. Six-in-ten of those considering the Liberals (59%) in the coming election say that the Trudeau government has struck the right balance, while would-be New Democrats and Greens are inclined to say they’ve been pushing too hard:

Doing enough to protect the environment?

On the other side of the debate, environmental activists have argued that pushing forward pipeline projects is counterproductive if the government legitimately wants to combat climate change. The government has noted that it will continue to fund certain energy projects to grow the economy while investing in green energy projects and implementing its carbon pricing mechanism across the country.

Many are also concerned by a potential spill of diluted bitumen and the impact that may cause. The government is investing $1.5 billion over five years into a number of areas including marine safety, restoring marine ecosystems and researching oil spill cleanup methods.

The largest group of Canadians, about two-in-five (43%), say that the government needs to do more to protect the environment, while smaller groups say Trudeau has found the right balance (29%), or has in fact, been paying too much attention to the environmental side of the equation (28%).

Men are divided nearly evenly between the three options, while half of women say the government needs to focus more on protecting the environment (see comprehensive tables at end of report). Similar to the previous question about pipeline capacity, Conservatives feel that the government is doing too much for environmental protection, while potential supporters for the three other major parties disagree:


Concerns centre on tanker traffic, climate change

Though the project has now been approved by both the National Energy Board and the federal government, many Canadians’ concerns remain. Chief among these are the potential impact on the climate from burning more fossil fuels (66%), and the potential for an oil spill (68%) that may result from a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet. Currently only four or five tankers per month run through the inlet, but the expectation is that this would increase to approximately one per day:

What is particularly notable about both of these potential risks is the concern that each draw from regions that overwhelmingly support the expansion. Four-in-ten residents from Alberta and Saskatchewan say they are concerned about climate impacts and tanker spills. Further, nearly half of those considering the CPC in the coming election also say they share this worry, making it the highest priority for that group as well (see comprehensive tables).

*Note, small sample size, interpret with caution


Political Sphere Methodology

Rather than rely on respondents’ potentially faded memories regarding their vote in the 2015 federal election, ARI researchers constructed a measure of political partisanship based on willingness to vote for the main federal parties in a future election under their current leaders.

The question specifically asked respondents how likely they would be to vote for “The Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau,” “The Conservative Party led by Andrew Scheer,” and “The New Democratic Party led by Jagmeet Singh” in a future election. The response options were “definitely support” the party and leader in question, “certainly consider” them, “maybe consider” them, and “definitely not even consider” them.

Respondents choosing either of the first two options (definitely support or certainly consider) are considered to be a party’s “sphere.” They represent potential supporters of that party, not necessarily decided voters.

It should be noted that the categories are not mutually exclusive. Respondents were asked to give an opinion on each of the main parties and had the option to say they would “certainly consider” each one.

Thus, many respondents may appear in the spheres of multiple parties.

Click here for PDF of full release including methodology

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.

For detailed results by support/opposition to the TransMountain Pipeline expansion and political spheres, click here.

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey


Dave Korzinski, Research Associate: 250.899.0821