Bad News for Enbridge

A new poll released on Feb. 5 by Justason Market Intelligence, commissioned by Dogwood Initiative and three other groups, has confirmed the majority of British Columbians are still opposed to Enbridge’s plan to bring crude oil supertankers to B.C.’s northern inside coastal waters.

Enbridge should be worried – very worried. Despite the millions of dollars they and other big oil companies have spent over the years blanketing British Columbia with slick marketing campaigns, the vast majority of British Columbians still oppose their oil tanker and pipeline proposal.

We were pleased, but not surprised, to learn that nearly two out of every three British Columbians oppose Enbridge’s proposal (64 per cent). These results are consistent with a Justason poll from March 2012 that found 66 per cent of British Columbians were opposed to Enbridge’s proposal.

Each poll from 2012 and 2014 show fifty per cent of British Columbians strongly oppose Enbridge’s proposal, while just over ten per cent strongly support it. This enthusiasm gap is huge and bodes well for the No Tankers movement and our efforts to launch the largest organizing effort in British Columbia’s history.

Last weekend Enbridge released a video aggressively attacking the poll, though they couldn’t find anything of substance to criticize. Our pollster Barb Justason summed it up in her statement:

“In one question they object to two words from an array of information provided for respondents to consider in their response. In the other, Enbridge themselves mislead the viewer by sharing half of the argument and none of the question.”

Here’s the video and a Vancouver Sun story about Enbridge’s attack.

Enbridge’s claims of bias are unfounded. At the end of the poll we actually asked respondents what type of organization they thought sponsored it. More than 50 per cent thought it was a group either in support of Enbridge’s proposal, or neutral. Take a look:

Who sponsored this research?

We’re so confident that the vast majority of British Columbians oppose Enbridge that we invited the company to collaborate with us on a new poll that describes the full scope and location of the proposal. You see, not all polls are created equal when it comes to pipeline and tanker proposals.

Other recent polls about Enbridge’s proposal don’t tell the whole story – they only discuss pipelines with no mention of the crude oil super tankers that would inevitably come with them. When polls ask only about pipelines, opposition drops to between 44 per cent and 47 per cent.

But when British Columbians hear the full story, they are much more strongly opposed. That’s why we’re challenging Enbridge to collaborate on a poll we can both agree on. We’re still waiting to hear back.

Defeatism and its antidote

At first glance, the poll results are an encouraging sign of British Columbians’ strong opposition to expanded oil tanker traffic on our coast. Dig a little deeper though, and the results tell a more complex story about the role British Columbians want to have in deciding the fate of pipeline and oil tanker proposals.

We asked people what role they think the public should have in decision-making about these types of projects, and an overwhelming majority said they think the public should participate.

Yet Ottawa’s aggressive pro-pipeline pressure has people concerned. Our poll was the first one released about Enbridge’s proposal since the National Energy Board’s joint review panel (JRP) recommended conditional approval in December. To assess what British Columbians actually thought of it, we asked people whether or not they trusted the review process. Most people are not satisfied with the JRP’s public participation process – no surprise given that the panel ignored the strong opposition of the B.C. government, First Nations, and all but two of the British Columbians who spoke before it.

Unfortunately, British Columbians are pessimistic about their ability to influence whether the project is built. While two-thirds of British Columbians are opposed to Enbridge’s proposal, that same amount of people believe the project is a done deal anyway.

Will Enbridge's pipelines and tanker proposal succeed?

Many people feel powerless because they don’t yet see an avenue for having a meaningful voice in the decision-making processes for such proposals. That’s where our citizen’s initiative strategy comes in. Preparing to launch a citizen’s initiative if Ottawa and Victoria cut a deal provides a democratic channel for people to ensure they have a meaningful say.

Many British Columbians don’t know we have Canada’s only direct democracy tool to hold our provincial leaders to account, or that the province has real power to block oil tanker and pipeline proposals to our coast.

“As previously stated by Premier Clark and (then environment minister Terry Lake), British Columbia has the authority to grant or withhold approximately 60 permits related to pipeline construction.”
– Environment Minister Mary Polak in The Globe and Mail, January 21, 2014

I believe that once the campaign gets rolling, the sense of powerlessness will diminish, lifting the shadow of inevitability that some people associate with the project.

By getting our friends, family and neighbours to pledge their support for a citizen’s initiative, we’ll signal to Premier Clark what she’s up against if she betrays her election promise by forcing Enbridge through. She’ll understand there are consequences to ignoring the will of First Nations, the majority of British Columbians and her government’s formal rejection of Enbridge.

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work. Together we can make it a political necessity for provincial leaders to stop the expansion of crude oil tanker traffic that threatens our province and coastal economy.

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