by David Korzinski | January 27, 2020 9:30 pm
January 28, 2020 – In the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling regarding the TransMountain pipeline expansion (TMX), it would appear that another legal challenge against the project has come to an end. But in the court of public opinion, opposition to the twinning of the pipeline is heating up again.
The latest public opinion survey from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds opposition to the project has increased since June of last year.
Indeed, over the past three periods of data collection since June 2018, shortly after the Liberal government purchased the TMX from Kinder Morgan, opposition has risen 11 percentage points while support has dropped.
That said, a slight majority overall continue to support the project (55%).
Still, it is not enough for the Trudeau government to overcome its ongoing political challenge on this file.
While Canadians agree by a two-to-one ratio (53% to 27%) that the SCOC made the right decision in dismissing an appeal from the British Columbia government challenging federal jurisdiction of cross-border pipeline contents (in this case, heavy oil and bitumen), opposition to the project has spiked in Quebec (+18), Ontario (+13) and B.C. (+13) over the last 18 months. Notably, this hardening of opposition has occurred in regions where the minority Liberal government must lean hardest for support.
More Key Findings:
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.
Supreme Court Decision
Support for the TransMountain pipeline expansion (TMX), a project that would twin an existing pipeline that runs between Edmonton and Burnaby, has been and remains in majority territory for the better part of the past two years. That said, the gap between support and opposition has shrunk from its high point. In June 2018, shortly after a divisive decision by the federal government to purchase TMX, Canadians were at their most favourable about the project itself. At that time, one-quarter (26%) of Canadians opposed the project, compared to 57 per cent who supported it. Now, at the beginning of 2020, close to the same number of Canadians support the project (55%) but nearly two-in-five oppose it (37%):
At its most supported, the TMX garnered a plus 31 net score, the score that results when subtracting opposition from support. That score has dropped to plus 18 now:
Men are overwhelmingly in favour of the project while women under the age of 55 are more likely to oppose rather than support it:
The two provinces at the heart of this ongoing saga have widely differing views over whether the project should proceed. In British Columbia, where the provincial NDP government has been opposed to the project since taking power in 2017, support still outweighs opposition. That said, opposition has risen since June of 2018 as construction has begun and court challenges have been heard and resolved:
In Alberta, meanwhile, support has been unwavering and in fact, rising. Nearly nine-in-ten Alberta residents (87%) want the pipeline expansion to be built and just one-in-ten disagree:
Opposition has evidently been rising in British Columbia, but other regions, further removed from this specific project but increasingly concerned about climate change, are also voicing more protest.
Related: Three-quarters of Canadians concerned over threat of climate change
Over the past three series of data collected by the Angus Reid Institute, opposition has risen considerably in B.C., Ontario and Quebec. In Quebec, opposition is up 23 percentage points since April of 2018, and is now a majority opinion (55%). In Ontario, opposition has risen 13 points since June 2018. Those three regions now represent the highest opposition levels in the country, with Alberta and Saskatchewan the lowest.
Conversely, support at the national level has been sustained by rising levels in the Prairies. In both Saskatchewan and Manitoba, support has risen over the last three waves of data. Support in Atlantic Canada, meanwhile, is up 11 points since mid-2018.
Political dynamics on this issue are interesting. Support is near-unanimous among those who supported a Conservative candidate in the October federal election. Division is near even past Liberal Party voters, while past NDP voters skew heavily towards opposing it:
On January 16 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously rejected an appeal from the B.C. government which sought to allow the province to regulate the flow of heavy oil and bitumen through the province. The B.C. government had previously received the same ruling from the Court of Appeal of British Columbia and sought to overturn it through Canada’s highest court.
The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in March of 2019 that the province cannot restrict oil and gas products through pipelines that transcend provincial borders because those projects are under federal jurisdiction and subject to the regulation of the National Energy Board.
Just over half of Canadians (53%) say that they feel the SCOC made the right call, a margin of 2:1 over those who say it was the wrong one:
Of particular interest in the data are the political perspectives. While Liberal Party voters are nearly divided about the pipeline expansion overall, they are overwhelmingly of the opinion that the court made the right decision about jurisdiction. Twice as many Liberals hold this view (52%) compared to those who disagree (23%). CPC voters are vastly more likely than other partisans to say this was the right decision, while NDP voters are most likely to feel the opposite:
At the beginning of last year, half of Canadians felt that the government was not doing enough to build new pipeline capacity. Since then, opinion has softened, with Canadians falling more closely into three equally sized camps. While 38 per cent still feel that the Liberals need to do more, nearly the same number say the government is actually doing too much on this file and should focus elsewhere:
The two provinces at the heart of this ongoing saga have wildly divergent views about how the federal government is managing it. In British Columbia, the number of residents expressing that the government has been doing too little to build more pipeline capacity has dropped considerably and now sits at three-in-ten (30%). That group is now outpaced by those who say the government is pushing too hard on this file (43%). Fully one-quarter (26%) say that the Liberals have struck the right balance:
In Alberta, frustrations continue. Four-in-five residents in Canada’s most economically pessimistic province continue to say that the federal government must do more to increase pipeline capacity. This number remains unchanged compared to last year:
One of the driving forces against the TMX is the sense that Canada needs to do more to combat climate change. Throughout 2019 Canadians consistently voiced that this was the number one issue facing the country, though it is worth noting that both climate change and oil and gas development, as incompatible as they may seem, were both high priorities during the election campaign.
Related: Majorities say both climate action, oil & gas growth should be top priorities
Underscoring the tension for the Liberal government in trying to balance these two files, half of Canadians now say that they are doing too little to protect the environment. The rest are divided between the view that the government is doing too much, or has struck the right balance:
Overall, when asked to pick between the two policy areas of protecting the environment or promoting economic growth, six-in-ten Canadians (58%) lean toward the environmental side of the debate. Views are distinct when comparing men and women as well as the political spectrum, as seen in the graph below: For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here
To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here.
Click here to read the full questionnaire used in this report.
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