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Pipeline Drama | Political Theatre Upstages Fundamental Policy Debate

Pipeline Drama | Political Theatre Upstages Fundamental Policy Debate
By Mark Klotz [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The expansion of the Kinder Morgan or Trans Mountain pipeline [the name itself has potentially different connotations] has been effectively hijacked and turned into political theatre over the past few months. Overall Canadians support the expansion and, importantly, the B.C. government’s position is not fully aligned with public opinion.

What then, would we expect of public opinion as the issue moves from more traditional political conflict to elevated federal-provincial conflict? The following are likely key drivers of overall public reaction.

  • Perceptions of pipelines in terms of risks and alternatives.
  • Importance/ priorities for the environment given risks and B.C. messaging that highlights environmental risks.
  • Confidence in regulatory processes.
  • Ego-centric worries [Economic worries in provinces relying on oil exports/ environmental worries in provinces potentially impacted].
  • Perceptions of the provinces/ region.
  • Perceptions of NDP governments.
  • Federalism worries/ concerns.

Under normal circumstances, the top three would be the most important drivers of a major pipeline decision while ego-centric worries would be most important local/ regional drivers of support. The political conflict between Alberta and B.C. brings into consideration a series of other potential influences. For example, does perceptions of B.C. as more environmentally engaged mean that people in Central and Eastern Canada are more likely to believe environmental concerns or discount them?

We cannot unpack all of these considerations in the polling undertaken to date but it is helpful to remind ourselves that questions about pipelines are not just about pipelines.

Despite the political theatre, across several polls, there is considerable support for proceeding with the expansion nationally. In five national polls, the lowest level of overall support is 50% and this is based on a question that included both a don’t know option and a neither option (Innovative Research Group). The inclusion of these options lowers the overall level of support since 18% choose neither and 12% don’t know.

When we look at individual poll results, it is clear that even in British Columbia a majority would support the expansion.

Recent Polling on Trans Mountain

Support for Trans Mountain [Nanos]

The Nanos measure of support is the highest among recent national polls with 67% either supporting or somewhat supporting the expansion. Even in B.C. a majority is supportive (59%).

67% of Canadians support the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline

Support for Expansion [Angus Reid Institute]

In separate surveys in February and April, 2018 the Angus Reid Institute examined the question of overall approval of the project. Though the questions were slightly different they use the same scale and directionally are tapping the same concept. In April, 55% of Canadians supported the expansion. As the other polls showed, BC residents (54%) are as supportive of it as Canadians.

Support for Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion [Ipsos/Global News]

The Ipsos Global New survey conducted in the waning days of April 2018, found a slight majority of Canadians in favour of the expansion (32% somewhat and 24% strongly). There is clearly opposition (33% hold an opposing view) but even in B.C. a majority is in support.

A majority is in favour of the expansion

Support for Federal Decision to Approve Expansion

The Innovative Research survey conducted in early May indicates that half of Canadians support the federal decision. Notably, Quebec is the most offside.

50% at least somewhat support the federal decision


Looking Farther Back

Polling further back — when the issue was less prominent in the news — also found a decisive lean in the approval direction.

In December 2016, Ipsos conducted a survey for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The survey asked about awareness of different energy projects and approval (level of agreement with) three federal government decisions. The public, at the time, effectively made no distinction been approving the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion (36% agree) and approving the Enbridge Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin (39% agree). Almost the same number approved of the rejection of the Northern Gateway project (33%). Although the overall share of agreement is not a majority, the plurality had no opinion. 

The other noteworthy finding was that when it came to the Trans Mountain expansion, 54% of B.C. residents agreed and 61% of Alberta residents agreed with the federal decision.

2016 Survey on Federal Pipeline Decisions

The Ipsos poll is largely consistent with an Innovative Research Poll around the same time that showed supporters of the Government decisions outweighing opponents by a significant margin. Overall support is somewhat higher as their are fewer neither or don’t knows compared with the Ipsos survey.

Support for Government Pipeline Decisions from Innovative Research Poll (2016)

The overall level of support for the decision followed an earlier decision by the NEB to approve the Trans Mountain decision based on a large number of conditions. A June 2016 Angus Reid Institute survey found that 41% thought the decision was the fire one compared with only 24% who thought it was wrong (35% were not sure). The same survey found that 64% of Canadians thought it was likely to be expanded despite the hurdles.


In 2016, the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline was one of a number of pipeline related issues facing Canada and its decision-leaders. In 2016, the lean was in the direction of supporting the project with a lot of uncertainty. Given the potential mobilization by environmental groups, the project was not a certainty but there seemed to be little resistance in public opinion, particularly in the two provinces most affected.

Fast forward to the present. Not that much has changed. The gap between support in Alberta and B.C. has widened (almost everyone in Alberta is supportive) but overall public opinion continues to be on-side.

The B.C. opposition has not affected a significant public movement to oppose the expansion. As the 2018 Innovative Research Group poll found, the impact has been largely on perceptions of the participants. Only 25% of Canadians support the way the federal government has managed the issue and more think the government of B.C. has been unreasonable (42%) than reasonable (23%).

The balance of economic interests/ progress and the environmental protection/ priority which are represented by the two sides of the inter-provincial conflict do not appear to be the critical drivers of support — which has if anything increased. The political theatre has hurt the participants more than be a victory of democracy. Remember, even a majority of B.C. resident support the pipeline expansion.


Release Date Firm/ Sponsor Field dates N Link
June 16, 2016 Angus Reid Institute May 30 to June 6, 2016 1505 http://angusreid.org/transmountain-pipeline/
December 14, 2016 Innovative Research Group December 1 to December 9, 2016 1800 http://innovativeresearch.ca/leakage-the-impact-of-recent-pipeline-decisions-on-federal-liberal-support/
December 15, 2016 Ipsos/ Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) December 5 to December 8, 2016 1000 http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=7507
September 9, 2017 Abacus July 14 to 18, 2017 2036 http://abacusdata.ca/public-attitudes-on-oil-pipelines-climate-and-change/
September 19, 2017 Insights West September 1 to September 6, 2017 817 (BC Only) https://insightswest.com/news/british-columbians-still-divided-over-pipeline-expansion/
February 22, 2018 Angus Reid Institute February 15 – 19, 2018 2501 http://angusreid.org/alberta-bc-transmountain-dispute/
March 17, 2018


Abacus February 26 to March 6, 2018 900 (BC only) http://abacusdata.ca/is-bc-really-polarized-over-kinder-morgan-trans-mountain/
April 18, 2018

April 23, 2018

Angus Reid Institute April 16 – 17, 2018 2125 http://angusreid.org/transmountain-kindermorgan-part2/
May 3, 2018 Ipsos Global News April 24 and 30, 2018 1907 https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/Kinder-Morgan-Trans-Mountain-Pipeline-Expansion-Poll-May-3-2018
May 7, 2018 Nanos CTV Globe and Mail April 28 and May 4, 2018 1000 http://www.nanos.co/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-1202-CTV-GLOBE-Populated-Report-with-Tabs.pdf
May 18, 2018 Innovative Research Group May 7-14, 2018 2327 https://innovativeresearch.ca/federal-liberals-alienating-both-sides-in-kinder-morgan-fight/