For most of the month of February, Canadians were exposed to a series of civil disobedience actions and road blockades that had not been seen in years.
The protests flared up in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposed to the construction of the Coastal GasLink liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline in British Columbia – a project that is supported by elected band councils along the route.
This month, Research Co. looked at how British Columbians are perceiving the current state of affairs, the performance of the main groups engaged in the dispute, and their feelings towards LNG development in the province.
Seven in 10 British Columbians (70%) have followed news related to the Coastal GasLink pipeline “very closely” or “moderately closely” over the past two months, including 76% of men, 80% of residents aged 55 and over and 77% of those who live in northern B.C.
Across the province, 61% of residents support LNG development in British Columbia, while 25% are opposed. The numbers do not change much when respondents are asked directly about the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Three in five British Columbians (61%) agree with building this project, while 30% disagree.
Two areas of the province – Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver – have shown resistance to other resource development projects in the past. When it comes to Coastal GasLink, support is high in both regions (67% on Vancouver Island and 59% in Metro Vancouver).
There is also no political divide on this particular project, with majorities of British Columbians who voted for the BC Green Party (53%), the governing BC New Democratic Party (BC NDP) (56%) and the BC Liberals (75%) in the last provincial election agreeing that the Coastal GasLink pipeline should continue.
Respondents to the survey were asked to assess the actions of six specific groups that have been the main protagonists in this quarrel. The highest rating is for the Wet’suwet’en elected band council, with 48% of British Columbians agreeing with what they have chosen to do, followed by the government of British Columbia (44%) and the government of Canada (41%).
The endorsement of the actions of the provincial government is highest among men (47%), British Columbians aged 18 to 34 (51%) and residents of the Fraser Valley (59%). In a fascinating twist, more than half of those who voted for the BC Liberals in 2017 (54%) agree with what the provincial government has done on this file, slightly higher than the feelings of those who cast ballots for the governing BC NDP (48%) and the BC Greens (also 48%).
The public is more nuanced in its assessment of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, with 37% of British Columbians agreeing with their actions and 48% disagreeing with them. Dissatisfaction is definitely higher with the people who have participated in protests (agree 38%, disagree 53%) and those who have taken part in road blockades (agree 33%, disagree 58%).
On the issue of civil disobedience, British Columbians aged 35 to 54 and aged 55 and over see little difference between those who have protested the project without disturbing roads and those who have actively blocked them. Among British Columbians aged 18 to 34, there is a change. While 55% of the province’s youngest adults agree with the actions of the protesters, the proportion drops to 46% when assessing those who have blocked roads.
Most British Columbians hold positive feelings about the project. More than two-thirds (70%) believe the Coastal GasLink project will create hundreds of jobs, and a majority (53%) do not feel the provincial government should stop the project.
In addition, half of British Columbians (50%) do not regard the pipeline as a threat to the health and safety of local residents. This finding compares favourably with the results of a similar question Research Co. posed to British Columbians in December 2019 on the TransMountain pipeline expansion. Back then, 45% of residents saw that project as a menace – five points higher than what is observed for Coastal GasLink now.
There are some important revelations in this survey. Any animosity generated against the provincial government in the early stages of the dispute is not evident now, particularly as supporters of the main opposition party are more likely to express satisfaction with Victoria’s actions so far. Also, at a time when seven in 10 British Columbians are following stories related to Coastal GasLink, the public endorses its continuation by a two-to-one margin. •
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted March 9–11, 2020, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.