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The public’s support for one of the federal government’s largest projects is diminishing, according to a new poll.

Over the past year, support for the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline has dropped seven per cent, says the poll by Vancouver-based polling firm, Research Co. Forty-five per cent of British Columbians said they agree with the federal government’s move to reapprove the project compared to last year when it was at 52 per cent.

The pipeline, built in the 1950s, was taken over by Texas-based Kinder Morgan in 2015, which then made plans to triple the exports of the existing operation, upping production to 890,000 barrels each day flowing from Alberta to the B.C. coast. The federal government purchased the pipeline in 2018 for $4.5 billion. The Trans Mountain expansion (TMX) is projected to cost $12.6 billion.

The interesting piece of the poll for Mario Canseco, president of Research Co., is that although support has gone down, opposition has remained almost the same as its poll results in 2020 and 2019. Thirty-four per cent of British Columbians say they oppose the project — the same as when Canseco and his team asked in 2019.

Recent news around TMX includes two dozen environmental groups calling on the pipeline’s remaining insurers to drop the project after 16 other insurers pulled out.

However, Canseco said TMX is not on the political stage like it used to be.

“It's almost as if people are saying, ‘Is this thing still around? We haven't really heard much about this.’ And the activism is moving to other fronts — Site C, LNG, old-growth logging,” he said.

“It's kind of like we went from people who were moderately supportive to people who thought, 'I haven't heard anything about this project in a year, so maybe I'm undecided.'”

Fifty-five per cent said they didn’t think the federal government has been handling TMX well since purchasing it, but the majority (almost two-thirds) still think the project will create hundreds of jobs for British Columbians.

Forty-five per cent of British Columbians said they agree with the federal government’s move to reapprove the Trans Mountain Pipeline, compared to last year, when it was at 52 per cent. #TMX

However, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative found “British Columbia does not rely on the jobs created through the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (TMX) promises that the pipeline would create 50 permanent jobs in British Columbia, and 40 in Alberta.”

Poll results are based on an online survey of 800 adults in British Columbia from Oct. 1 to Oct. 3. 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.

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This poll confirms previous polls, but as presented in this piece it isn't broken down by region, only averaged.

It stands to reason that British Columbians who live in southern coastal communities, that is, the very communities that would be greatly impacted by even a medium-sized spill from one of the TMX Aframax tankers, will have a higher proportion of those opposed to TMX than the oil and gas-producing communities of northeastern BC, which in turn have a higher proportion of workers and family connections to Alberta.

Taking the numbers as presented at face value (i.e. a highly unlikely equal opposition / support across the province), a hardcore minimum of 1.12 million of the 3.3 million who live on the South Coast are totally opposed to the project. Add in the increasing ratio of undecided, and the potential opposition would be 1.82 million.

If the poll was broken out in more detail with a higher sample size, I suspect the totally opposed and the downward movement from supportive to undecided would top two million people on the coast. In addition, the support could be higher than 45% in NE BC, but with a lower population. It escapes me how averaging across the province provides greater understanding of the regional intricacies of the project, especially if any information (e.g. professional risk assessments) on the potential impact of spills marine environments vs. spills on land was included.

Looking at it another way, this poll indicates the number of British Columbians on the coast who are opposed or have wavering support for TMX would exceed the entire metropolitan population of the Calgary region by at 300,000 people, likely more if regional differences between the coast and the NE were separated.

Meanwhile, the justification for TMX beyond replacing an old pipe is not supported by: the stated economic benefits (diversifying markets with Asian refineries -- no evidence) and is in fact countered by recent data on divesture by Big Oil companies in Alberta; the mountains of cash invested by all the major carmakers into electric vehicles with new mass fleet purchases announced every week, therein setting up Alberta oil markets for demand destruction; by any professional risk assessment concerning marine-based ecosystems and economies in BC; and certainly not by climate science.

TMX, go home.

Unfortunately, I no longer remember where, but I saw a fairly recent map of regional support for TMX, and the support was centred, basically, around oil and gasfields.
It's about jobs that bring home the thick steaks (and lobster from the coast). In a gas guzzler. Then on to the gas barbeque.
If I'd dropped out of school at the earliest possible date, and managed to pull down enough money in 5 years to finance a lifetime, I expect I'd do something similar.
Heck. I'd most likely never have become vegetarian. That was the southern west coast, a long time ago.
The environment/conservation/vegetarian spirit was not only alive and well there, but thriving, way back when. As it was in several communities.

What does “support” mean when referring to TMX? There are many features involved which, surveyed alone or in relevant groups, would yield, I suspect, a wide range of “supports”.

The specific concerns are: where the piped product comes from—that is, what it is; how it gets from there to the West Coast; and what happens to it from that point on.

The generic concerns are: the environment (GHG emissions from production, transport and use); the economy (including local, regional, sovereign jurisdictions, and the world); sovereignty (three Crown sovereignties of Alberta, BC, Canada, and impacted indigenous nations which still have sovereign claims to settle.

From my point of view, the tar sands are primarily a generic worry, and specific only insofar as my region is impacted; there are other points of view and I try to recognize them, if not always agree with them. For me, the legal quagmire of forcing the pipeline through ‘unceded’ First Nations’ territories (i.e., where no treaties yet exist) has potential to be disruptive and divisive on every level of concern, environmental, economic, sovereign, &c. The prospect of shipping diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) in supertankers which would ply busy inside waters where I live is deeply concerning to me and many of my neighbours.

The petro-worker in Fort Mac and the Elder of a FN on the pipeline route would probably have different weightings of concerns—and probably some other specific concerns of which any of us is, as yet, unaware. Industry interests, governments, and financial institutions have their points of view and perspectives, too. Taking all these into account would probably show that one position might agree with certain points of any other, but also disagree —even those with which it agrees on other, specific points. The over-generalized survey does zero justice to these ordinary, often overlapping positions.

Surveying “support” for TMX pipeline is so grossly over-generalized as to be of little use except as biased rhetoric propagated by only a few, powerful interests —and of course there are always peripheral interests which try to shoehorn themselves into the debates (note the plural) for ulterior reasons: they find particularly polarized stats very handy—especially when very close margins create the Illusion of crisis.

Most citizens want cogent policy to fairly and safely address these concerns, including gradual transitions to new positions and immediate policies to address local concerns not widely shared by others involved. Disaffection from government instead of from partisan politicians whose policies are either good but not implemented, or bad for more citizens than good for others is a growing concern because only government can find and implement the right policies.

Indeed, one of the biggest, most widely shared casualties of ramming TMX through is distrust of government. Widely-shared in this way is not the kind of consensus we want. Meanwhile nothing changes about the benefits industry and certain political partisans get—but the ecological and economic environments continue to change in disturbing ways to their respective advocates: environmentalists are as alarmed about rising global temperatures as bitumen workers are about losing their jobs. Without appreciating each other’s concerns, they all tend to load up for conflict. It’s unfortunate for everyone that politicians and industry—and other, ulteriorly motivated groups of surly mien—gin these base, chauvinistic emotions.

If we listen more closely—that is, keep over-generalized popularity surveys in proper perspective with more precise ones—we find that the petro-worker in Fort Mac understands quite well that his or her industry has to wind down—but would like more people to know under what conditions; and that the concerned citizen like me accepts that some bitumen development is unavoidable — possibly even beneficial—but also only under certain conditions. Similarly, FNs, we know, are not entirely for or against TMX; again, in some cases their concerns might be acceptably addressed while allowing TMX to transit their sovereign claim—but, just like the others, only under certain conditions. All of would like our respective concerns to at least be acknowledged by the others involved in TMX. We’re still pretty far from that.

I want the tar sands to reduce production at least 75% over the next three decades, the remaining 25% to reduce its GHG production by at least half; but I absolutely oppose supertankers full of dilbit navigating our inside marine waters; the scenario acceptable to me, therefore, is basically using TMX to replace the aging TM pipeline and do what it has been doing for seven decades: supply West Coast refineries with crude stock which in turn supplies the regional market with gasoline and aviation fuel—and not supply supertankers for export. Thus, if a survey was broken into two parts, TMX and supertankers, my support for one would be much, much higher than for the other. The general question cannot represent me or the points I’m willing to talk turkey on. The uninformed bitumen worker has been trained to dismiss me as a hypocrite for driving a car and treasonous and unpatriotic for wanting to take his or her job away—and probably thinks I’m one of the tiny majority which this survey has identified as the enemy—and that’s far from the truth.

I’ve observed that most bitumen workers enlisted in industry’s self-serving propaganda campaign do not seem to understand that many West Coasters (whom many categorize very prejudicially by rote) aren’t worried so much about TMX per se, but rather about a supertanker dilbit spill. I don’t want to suggest that bitumen workers are the only ones susceptible to narrow-minded manipulation: a considerable proportion anti-TMXers do not acknowledge that many, if not most bitumen workers accept that their industry is winding down—they just want to work out their careers without investment in their homes and commuting collapsing (naturally, the gin masters fear-monger in exactly these terms). With backs up, we don’t hear each other, nor our potential to cooperate in transition. FNs’ TMX concerns are often ignored or co-opted to one “side” or another—or used as a bogeyman to gin thoughtless reaction. Blunt, imprecise surveys about TMX tend more to solidify and encourage our respective chauvinisms.

I think it’s a general rule of fairness—the perception of it—that when people feel their concerns have been heard in comprehensive debate rather than crudely forced into an over-generalized survey peg-hole, “yes” or “no” —then they’re more likely to respect and accommodate reciprocally other positions that would otherwise be viewed with enmity. Politics is supposed to work these compromises out, but it’s mostly perceived as taking sides. Neither good policy nor trust in government and the rule-of-law can be easily maintained like this.

A West Coat environmentalist might grumble that bitumen smelting would still be polluting the atmosphere during a transition period, but accept it on the condition that the Salish Sea and Juan de Fuca Strait would never see supertankers full of dilbit navigating toward inevitable disaster. With the blunt tool of over-generalized popularity surveys, neither “side” even knows the other holds a compromising position.

Remember, it’s not government failing us, but partisan politics in thrall to industry.

We need to see surveys that measure support much more precisely, that find out what compromises the various interests are willing to make and under what conditions. The blunt polls we get instead are only useful for manipulators of gross public opinion—for politicians more interested in their parties’ shot at power and for industry interested in policies that keep their profits rolling in.

What use is the recent survey? Who is going to use it, and for what purpose? It seems, from the points of view of specific interests perennially drowned out by the big shots, that their opinions are dismissed as a matter of course. Such cynicism needn’t be fomented: all it requires is surveying more interested in these distinct viewpoints and in presenting them altogether for everyone to see.