A slim majority of British Columbians support a proposed $5.5-billion oilsands pipeline to the B.C. coast, but opposition to the megaproject is growing, according to a new poll.
The poll also found that an overwhelming majority of B.C. Conservative party supporters, and two-thirds of B.C. Liberal supporters, favour the controversial plan by Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.
NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who commissioned the poll, said the results suggest it will become increasingly difficult for Christy Clark, B.C.’s Liberal premier, to continue to straddle the fence on the issue.
“It shows Clark will be offside with her base if she doesn’t support this,” said Stewart, MP for the Burnaby-Douglas riding.
Clark argues her government can’t take a position until after the National Energy Board rules on the issue, which is expected several months after next spring’s scheduled provincial election.
The telephone poll of 518 British Columbians, done March 5 to 19 by Mustel Group, found 50.1 per cent were in favour and 41.7 per cent opposed. The margin of error for a poll of that size is 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, Mustel says.
The poll showed divisions along political lines, with New Democrat Party supporters opposing Northern Gateway by a 58-34 margin and Green backers against the project by an overwhelming 72-24 margin.
Supporters of John Cummins’ Conservative party favoured the project by a 67-22 margin, while B.C. Liberal backers support it by a 64-34 margin.
Mustel’s poll question was identical to one posed to 1,000 British Columbians in December in an Enbridge-commissioned online poll by Ipsos-Reid. That poll found 48 per cent in favour and 32 per cent opposed, with a margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
While growth in support for the pipeline was tiny and within the margin of error, there was a 10-point gain in the proportion of British Columbians against the pipelines, Stewart noted.
“This polling confirms opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is growing and solidifying.”
He said greater awareness of the issue is behind the increased opposition. In the December Ipsos poll 20 per cent had no opinion, but in the Mustel survey that figure was down to eight per cent.
Stewart used his MP office budget to pay for the main question in the poll, but funded out of his own pocket an additional political question probing respondents’ party preferences.
The poll clashes sharply with another survey released Tuesday and funded by a handful of environmental groups.
The Justason Market Intelligence survey found that 66 per cent opposed the Enbridge proposal and just 22 per cent in favour. The combined telephone and online poll of 611 British Columbians, between Feb. 24 and March 7, had an margin of error of four percentage points. It was sponsored by the Dogwood Initiative, Forest Ethics, Living Oceans Society and West Coast Environmental Law.
Stewart said he was comfortable using the Ipsos question, which asked: “As you may know, Enbridge is the company leading the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, which is a proposal to build an underground pipeline system between near Edmonton, Alberta, and Kitimat, in northern B.C. One pipeline will transport oil to Kitimat for export by tanker to China and other Asian markets. A second pipeline will be used to import condensate (a product used to thin oil products for pipeline transport) to Alberta. Based on what you know to date, would you say that you generally support or oppose the Northern Gateway pipelines project? Is that strongly or somewhat?”
The Justason poll funded by environmentalists first asked: “One of the world’s largest oil transport companies, Enbridge, has asked Ottawa to approve a plan to allow crude oil to be transported from Alberta’s oil sands across British Columbia, where it would be loaded onto oil supertankers en route to refineries in Asia. This would bring crude oil supertankers to the coastal inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest for the first time. Have you heard of this plan?”
It then asked: “Up until now, crude oil supertankers have not entered B.C.’s inside coastal passage because of concerns about oil spills. Ottawa is now considering allowing crude oil supertankers to transport crude oil through these waters. Do you support or oppose allowing crude oil supertankers through B.C.’s inside coastal waters?”