Canadians are evenly divided when it comes to support for Ottawa’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, a new poll suggests, but more than one in 10 remain undecided about the controversial move.
The poll, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of Global News, reveals that 42 per cent of respondents support the federal government’s decision to buy the pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.
An equal proportion — 42 per cent — oppose it, and 16 per cent of Canadians say they don’t know how they feel about it.
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“I think part of the challenge when we start to talk about government spending — particularly when we start to talk about billions of dollars being spent — [is] there’s a bit of a struggle to understand what that means, from a short-term and a long-term perspective,” said Ipsos vice president Jamie Duncan about the number of people on the fence.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Albertans were the strongest supporters of the government’s pipeline purchase at 58 per cent, followed by British Columbians at 46 per cent.
“There’s a perception that the majority of British Columbians are against the pipeline, and that continues to not hold true,” said Duncan.
A slight majority of Albertans — 55 per cent — and exactly half of British Columbians — 50 per cent — also believe the government had to purchase the pipeline in order to ensure the project went ahead. Once you look at the country as a whole, however, that proportion drops.
About four in 10 Canadians overall believe that the purchase was necessary, while a slightly smaller proportion at 35 per cent think it was unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Again, a significant number of people — 23 per cent — were unsure.
Overall support remains steady
When it comes to the pipeline expansion itself, more than half of Canadians still support the project — 20 per cent strongly and 32 per cent somewhat — but that support has fallen four points since May.
A quarter of Canadians remain opposed to the Trans Mountain expansion — 13 per cent strongly and 13 per cent somewhat — while another 22 per cent have no opinion.
“I don’t think anything has really changed, fundamentally, in terms of what’s actually influencing people’s opinions about the Kinder Morgan pipeline as a whole,” said Duncan.
“What we know is that those who are opposed to it generally agree that there are economic benefits, that there are a number of things that would benefit them individually … but we know that for that group, the environment tends to be number one.”
The poll results confirmed that on the other side, support for the pipeline continues to be driven largely by factors such as the strength of the economy, getting value for taxes paid and the price of gas.
WATCH: Examining the provincial divide on the Trans Mountain project
One thing opponents and supporters of the project alike have in common is the firm belief that the federal government should provide tax dollars to help British Columbia prepare for, and deal with, any environmental disasters that could occur because of increased tanker traffic along the west coast.
A full 70 per cent of supporters and an almost equal 68 per cent of opponents agree with that idea. Duncan said a common misconception is that people who support the pipeline don’t care about the environment, but that’s not what Ipsos has been seeing in its polling results.
Many Canadians also continue to express the desire to see First Nations given a strong voice in the debate. Fifty-five per cent say the pipeline expansion should only go forward with the full consent of the First Nations whose territory the pipeline passes through, up five points since May.
Less than one in three — 32 per cent, down four points — disagree, and 14 per cent say they are not sure.
Bad grades for everyone involved
The results indicate that the public is pretty unhappy with how just about every major stakeholder has been handling the pipeline dispute.
Forty-three per cent of respondents said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing a poor job handling the pipeline issue, while 17 per cent are unsure.
WATCH: Trudeau more concerned about doing the right thing around Trans Mountain pipeline than holding seats in B.C.
Dissatisfaction with B.C. Premier John Horgan is about the same at 41 per cent, but a full 35 per cent of respondents were unsure about him. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is in a slightly better position — only 36 per cent rate her performance as poor — and 34 per cent are unsure.
As for the opposition groups within British Columbia, such as environmental groups, First Nations, and others, only one in three Canadians say they are doing a good job handling the dispute, whereas 41 per cent give them a poor rating, and 27 per cent are unsure.
“No one is really coming out ahead as seeming to be leading this well,” said Duncan.
“Which presents a bit of a challenge when we take a look at election season coming up, both in Alberta and across the country.”
Despite the pipeline dispute consistently being in the news cycle this spring, Canadians are generally losing interest in the subject, as less than half — 47 per cent — now say they are personally interested in the issue, down four points.
“We have fewer people today saying that they are interested in the topic, which presents a challenge for those political leaders that are looking to shift the narrative,” said Duncan.
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between July 13 and 17, 2018, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 people was interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The poll is accurate to within ±3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.