In the spring of 2018, the attention of British Columbians and Albertans appeared fixated on the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. It took a few more months for the federal government to take Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) out of all discussions by purchasing the project for $4.5 billion.
In June 2019, when the federal government re-approved the project, a majority of British Columbians (56 per cent) told Research Co. and Glacier Media that they agreed with Ottawa’s decision. In October 2021, support for the expansion fell below the 50 per cent mark for the first time (45 per cent).
Late last month, we asked residents of two western Canadian provinces about this project. In British Columbia, just over half of respondents (51 per cent) agree with the pipeline expansion, up six points since last year.
The striking shift is the drop in opposition, which went from 35 per cent in October of last year to 25 per cent in July 2022. This is the lowest level of opposition to the expansion in five separate surveys conducted by Research Co. and Glacier Media since 2019. In addition, 23 per cent of British Columbians are undecided about the issue, a significant increase since June 2019, when only 11 per cent of the province’s residents were not sure.
Regionally, two-thirds of southern B.C. (66 per cent) residents agree with the decision to re-authorize the pipeline expansion, along with majorities of their counterparts in northern B.C. (61 per cent) and the Fraser Valley (58 per cent). The proportions are lower in Metro Vancouver (50 per cent) and Vancouver Island (41 per cent).
As has been the case for the past three years, British Columbians who voted for the BC Liberals are more likely to endorse the decision to carry on with the Trans Mountain pipeline (69 per cent) than those who supported the BC New Democratic Party (NDP) (49 per cent) or the BC Green Party (39 per cent).
In Alberta, the numbers have shifted slightly. Practically seven in 10 of the province’s residents (69 per cent) agree with the federal government decision to re-approve the project, down five points since November 2020 but still a massive endorsement of Ottawa’s rationale in a province that has been severely critical of Justin Trudeau’s economic management.
British Columbians are no longer as preoccupied with the worst case scenario that the project could usher in. One third (33 per cent) think the provincial government should do anything necessary to ensure that the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion does not happen, down eight points since October 2021.
There are also significant drops in the proportion of British Columbians who think the expansion threatens the health and safety of British Columbians (40 per cent, down seven points) and who are disappointed with the way the federal government has handled the matter (51 per cent, down four points).
More than seven in 10 British Columbians (71 per cent, up six points) think the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion will create hundreds of jobs for British Columbians. The public remains incredulous about gas being cheaper as a result of the project (37 per cent, up one point).
In Alberta, views on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are not as negative, but the needle has moved on some indicators. Across the province, 28 per cent of respondents (up 11 points since October 2020) think the expansion threatens their health and safety, and 25 per cent (up three points) want their provincial government to stop the project.
Most Albertans are disappointed with the way the federal government has handled this file (61 per cent, up two points) and expect the project to create hundreds of jobs for Albertans (78 per cent, down one point). In addition, two in five Albertans (40 per cent, up six points) believe the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will lead to lower gas prices.
As the numbers on one pipeline become more positive, some British Columbians are ready to take a fresh look at a separate project that was shelved in November 2016. The Enbridge Northern Gateway - a proposed pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia’s north coast, to export oil on tankers to Asian markets - is worth reconsidering for 46 per cent of British Columbians, up five points since October 2021.
Residents of Alberta and British Columbia continue to react differently to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. In Alberta, concerns over safety are higher than before, but not at a level that would suggest open animosity toward the project. In British Columbia, agreement with construction is higher than last year, and significantly fewer residents believe this is a project that should be stopped at all costs.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from July 29 to July 31, 2022, among 800 adults in British Columbia and 800 adults in Alberta. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in each province. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.