In British Columbia, any discussion that delves on the topic of resource development –whether it happens inside a classroom, in a pub or on social media – can be easily bogged down in absolutism.
On one side, there are many residents who will always prefer environmental protection. On the other, there are many whose desire for economic growth outranks all other considerations.
Last year, Research Co. conducted a survey commissioned by the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C. (AME) and produced by Munro Thompson Communications. The poll sought to figure out how British Columbians gravitate between these two seemingly irreconcilable positions.
We also wanted to learn more about how British Columbians who strongly or moderately prioritize environmental protection differ from those who strongly or moderately prioritize economic growth on matters related to resource development.
The survey asked British Columbians to rank six different actions that may improve their opinion of the mineral exploration and mining industries. The top answer is related to knowledge and awareness. Almost three in 10 respondents (29%) say “learning more about how technology and innovation are used in mineral exploration and mining” would make them more supportive of these industries.
Other actions were not regarded with the same urgency, with 15% of British Columbians choosing “make public access to environmental assessment reports easier,” 12% wanting to “learn more about minerals mined in the province and what they are used for throughout the world,” 11% opting to “increase education standards for the mineral exploration and mining industries” and 8% hoping to “learn more about existing industry quality assurance programs and standards.”
One issue that has affected perceptions of natural resource development is just who benefits from what the land and the subsoil have to offer. In our survey, more than half of British Columbians (52%) acknowledged that their acceptance of mineral exploration and mining would increase if they became aware that the minerals they rely upon in their daily lives were found and mined in the province.
The perceptions of the influence of the mineral exploration and mining industries go through some variations, depending on who the ostensible beneficiary will be. Most British Columbians think these industries currently have a positive influence in Canada (68%), the province of British Columbia (65%), the world (57%) and their community (51%).
However, when it comes to more personal issues, the numbers are lower. Fewer than half of British Columbians currently perceive a positive influence from the mineral exploration and mining industries in their daily life (48%), their family (46%), their leisure (43%) and their work (38%). This does not mean that many residents of the province hold negative views. The proportion of British Columbians who are “not sure” is high when they ponder what mining brings to their daily lives (39%), leisure (42%) and work (50%).
Last year, the government of British Columbia passed legislation to ensure that, by the year 2040, all light-duty cars and trucks sold in the province will be “zero emission.” When Research Co. asked about this goal last year, seven in 10 British Columbians (70%) agreed with it.
In this survey, more than three in five British Columbians (63%) think the mineral exploration and mining industries “definitely” (24%) or “probably” (39%) have a role to play to ensure that only “zero emission” vehicles are sold in the province two decades from now.
This is the question where the solitudes of and “save the planet or else” and “create jobs or else” find common ground. More than two-thirds of British Columbians who “strongly” or “moderately” lean towards environmental protection (68% each) believe the mineral exploration and mining industries can make this goal attainable. They are joined by majorities of British Columbians who “moderately” and “strongly” lean towards economic development (64% and 59% respectively).
Following a year that has brought us plenty of absolutism from both sides of the environment-versus-jobs debate, it is rewarding to see that British Columbians are cautiously optimistic. A significant majority of the province’s residents foresee the mineral exploration and mining industries becoming key players in the welcome prospect of the “zero emission” evolution.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from June 21 to June 25, 2019, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.