Rachel Notley, on stage defending the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project back in October 2018 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

According to a well-known pollster, support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project has dropped in Canada outside the Prairies since this time last year.

In the same time frame, opposition to the multi-billion-dollar pipeline expansion project is growing at an even faster rate.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Angus Reid Institute reported yesterday that its new public opinion survey suggests opposition in Canada to the TMX has grown a substantial 11 per cent nationwide since June 2018.

That was just after Canada’s Liberal federal government purchased the original Trans Mountain Pipeline for about $4.5 billion, as many news reporters covering the poll results couldn’t resist noting.

Still, if you’re looking for a political explanation for the declining support for the TMX in particular, and most likely for pipelines generally, that’s almost certainly the wrong event to flag.

After all, even if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s determined effort to make the pipeline expansion a reality had turned Canadians against the TMX, the conservative governments in the three Prairie provinces, the country’s most resolutely anti-Trudeau region, have all done their level best to ensure he gets no credit for his hard work on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.

To a significant degree, this involves Conservative Party of Canada and provincial conservative politicians telling outright lies, a strategy that certainly seems to be working here in Wild Rose Country judging by what one hears anecdotally. At any rate, according to the poll analysis, Canadians were split about half and half on whether Mr. Trudeau is doing too much or not enough for the pipeline, with not many thinking he’s hit that Goldilocks spot where he’s perceived to be getting it just right.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Regardless, as the pollster’s news release put it, “Albertans are near-unanimously in support of the expansion,” and “they are joined increasingly by their fellow Prairie residents.” In other words, there’s very little room for growth in support on the Prairies, which means it’s falling faster everywhere else than the national numbers alone would suggest.

In British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, public opinion indeed appears to have turned against the pipeline. “Over the past 18 months, opposition has risen by 18 percentage points in Quebec (from 37 to 55 per cent), by 13 points in Ontario (from 23 to 36 per cent) and by 13 points in B.C. (from 28 to 41 per cent),” said the CBC’s report of the poll.

The pollster explained what this means politically in its release: “Notably, this hardening of opposition has occurred in regions where the minority Liberal government must lean hardest for support.”

Surely a more likely explanation for the timing of this trend than the date of Ottawa’s purchase in May 2018 is that while former NDP premier Rachel Notley’s much-maligned “social license” strategy was making progress on creating more positive perceptions about pipelines throughout Canada, UCP Premier Jason Kenney’s vituperative campaign of war rooms, inquiries and rhetorical attacks on other regions is a flop.

As the old saying goes, you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And as is becoming obvious, while Ms. Notley’s approach of taking measures to mitigate Alberta’s outsized contribution of global climate change while pushing hard for the pipeline, so bitterly attacked as ineffective by the political right in the lead-up to last April’s Alberta election, was winning friends in the rest of Canada, Mr. Kenney’s angry bluster is driving them away.

Journalist Tim Harper (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Instead of friends, Alberta is making new “Kennemies” every day!

According to the pollster, Canadian support for the TMX was moving toward 60 per cent by the time the UCP was elected in April 2019. Angus Reid Institute says it peaked at 58 per cent in June 2019, three months after the UCP took power and before the belligerence of the new government’s approach began to really sink in.

Since then, Mr. Kenney and his supporters have been hard at work.

They’ve been trying to intimidate Canadians who oppose pipelines and want a more rapid transition to a low-carbon economy through the so-called inquiry in to “anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” which journalist Tim Harper recently described as “the most private public inquiry” ever seen.

We’re told Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan is talking to witnesses. But who they are and what they’re saying is a secret. Maybe they’re embarrassed, since the whole inquiry was predicated on a dubious conspiracy theory about foreign-financed environmental campaigns trying to undermine Alberta’s energy industry. Will we even be told who has talked to the “inquiry”?

Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Well, at least Mr. Allan is supposed to hand Energy Minister Sonya Savage an interim reportwith advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options related to the inquiry” by Friday.

At the same time, the UCP Government has been exposing its poor research and questionable ethics through the not-so-good work of the deceptively known Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., commonly referred to as the Alberta Energy War Room.

Following two weeks of very public, often unintentionally hilarious blunders after it was launched in mid-December, the $30-million-per-annum War Room seems to have all but disappeared, the dull puff pieces on its website attracting little attention. At least staff members don’t seem to be trying to impersonate journalists any more.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kenney, his minsters and the UCP’s paid trolls have been busy haranguing Canadians who disagree with them on social media, encouraging extremist Alberta separatist groups to put pressure on Ottawa, and continuing to fight federal efforts like the national carbon tax to mitigate the impact of expanded oilsands mining on the planet’s environment.

Canadians outside Alberta, many of whom were willing to trust Ms. Notley, are clearly not impressed with her successor.

Even with the Prairies holding true to the shaky case for the TMX dream, support elsewhere seems certain to fall further, and opposition to become more confident and vocal, unless Mr. Kenney and the UCP change their tune.

I suppose TMX supporters can take comfort from the poll’s finding that while support for pipelines may be shrinking, a relatively narrow 55-per-cent majority of Canadians still supports the project. However, 58 per cent of respondents also said the environment should be Ottawa’s first priority, compared with 42 per cent who named the economy.

There’s plenty more to ponder in this poll, conducted between Jan. 21-23 using a randomized sample of 1,528 members of an online panel.

The next survey on the same topic may or may not confirm this conclusion, but it seems probable that with “social license” in the strategic trash can thanks to Mr. Kenney and the UCP, support for the TMX and other pipeline projects has nowhere to go but down.

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  1. What is social licence? Like another hard to define term, the middle class, everyone has an idea of what it is, but those ideas are often different. I would argue social licence is about 10% to 20% of public support.

    On an issue like pipelines where there are strong feelings on opposing sides, there is not a large undecided swing group. There was never going to be near unanimous support or no protests. The UCP seemed to portray the failure to get this as proof the Notley approach did not work. Social licence probably means broad enough support a government can politically risk going ahead with something, like when the Federal government saved the Trans Mountain pipeline.

    Now the Trans Mountain pipeline is moving ahead and many court challenges have been overcome, so the project may very well limp across the finish line, even with weakening public support, but declining support should be very worrying to the UCP. First of all, it is another example of the complete failure and waste of money, Kenney’s war room idea has been. Second, it will be harder to get approvals for future pipelines or oilsands projects. The Federal government now seems to be pushing back harder on the next project it is reviewing. The message to Kenney from the Feds now seems to be – drop your court challenge of the carbon tax if you want this to be considered. Mr. Kenney’s more antagonistic approach seems to be badly backfiring.

  2. Trudeau’s pipeline investment is a window into the type of investments Kenney has in mind for the public pensions. Whether Notley’s social license would have worked we will never know, but it is clear oil and gas isn’t a great investment at this point. The smart money has been heading for the exits for 10 years now.
    I would characterize Notley’s approach as the mature path taking into account realities. Kenney’s is more of a childish stomp your feet, yell and scream, and threaten to run away from home approach.

  3. The only thing the Kenney and the UCP are willing to accomplish is to make enemies of everyone and punish all for undefinable crimes.

    They are like an unguided lynch mob, running from scene to scene, demanding vengeance and blood, before being distracted by some other other infamy.

    The anger of Kenney has disoriented the government to the point where it will say anything to justify it’s next bizarre action. Policy based on ADD is not a mature for of governance. If anything, it proves that Kenney has other more interesting things on his mind, such as the CPC leadership.

    1. would hazard to guess that raising/stirring up that lynch mob was mostly a cynical approach to whip up the liBrul haters and the many other indoctrinated/hornswoggled albertans into voting UCP en masse and to keep them stirred up so they don’t take any pause to think

  4. The “old saying” may need an upgrade: you actually catch wasps with honey and if you want flies, bullshit (or any kind of crap will do) is the best lure.
    So, how this encourages better communications has always eluded me.

    Meanwhile, in the realm of Mr. Kenney and his minsters haranguing Canadians, encouraging extremist Alberta separatist groups and continuing to fight federal efforts let me tell you and your readers something they might not know about.
    Yesterday, in Jason Nixon’s shop, there was a required get together of employees. Over the course of 3 hours they were told that they must support the UCP land management and resource exploitation philosophy. They were not to question orders from their superiors, they were not to question authority, indeed they were told not to ask questions.
    The UCP gov’t would lay out the policies and the practices, the broad strokes and the operational details and the assembled hoard would do as instructed.
    To the extent that there is any management of Alberta’s natural resources like forests, water, grazing or wilderness it is because of the input of people with doctorate degrees in science and biology and others who have shepherded the planning continuity across 3 and 4 decades. For all the dim-witted mouth-breathers in the gov’t service there are, as we all know, some real intelligent and hard working types holding things together. These are not the kind of people you want to be barking orders at about the proper way to hold spears. Any half-ways effective leader would be listening, ears wide open, to these folks.

    Nope. Not the goomba’s in this gov’t, not the Jason’s. It’s ideology everywhere, all the time. Hermann Wilhelm Göring would be so proud.

    1. Not really surprising – I’ve heard stories something like this from the Klein years.
      You must remember that the UCP (like the rest of the Right these days, it seems) regards expertise as a threat.

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