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KURL – There’s a possible pathway to peace in the pipeline dispute

(Image: Kinder Morgan photo)

IT MUST BE a confounding reality show to people watching from east of the Rockies: protesters outside Vancouver being hauled away in their fight to stop the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion; B.C. Premier John Horgan remaining rock-hard in his resolve to keep up the legal battle in the face of the company’s ultimatum to walk away; Albertans erupting in fresh rounds of exasperation and threats; and Justin Trudeau jetting home from international summits to instead hold emergency summits in Ottawa.

Amidst all this, support for this fraught project’s completion has grown to majority territory in B.C.: Fifty-four per cent favour it.

What exactly is going on in the minds of British Columbians? New polling by the Angus Reid Institute  gives us two critical answers – and a possible pathway to peace in the dispute over twinning a pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta to a terminus in Metro Vancouver.

First, for the majority of those living in Canada’s Pacific province, this conflict isn’t about adding a second pipeline parallel to one that has already been in the ground for decades. That’s a sideshow. The real sticking point is what happens once the diluted bitumen in those pipelines makes its way to open water – and the risks associated with a tanker accident or spill at sea.

This worries three-quarters of British Columbians – including more than half of those who support the project. Indeed, this is the fear west coasters express five times as much as any other concern associated with Kinder Morgan’s plans.

Compounding their anxiety are serious doubts about the quality of existing plans to prevent or respond to a spill on the water. The majority evince little confidence in current procedures. Twice as many (27 per cent) say they are “not confident at all” as say they’re “very confident” (14 per cent).

Second, while British Columbians have little appetite to put up with the threats – real and considered – from Alberta and the federal government (two-thirds say compromise and incentives are the way to turn the temperature down), they have even less appetite to be in a fight with the rest of the country on issues of jurisdiction. This reticence is enough to move them towards accepting the completion of the project.

Seven-in-10 say that if the courts rule that the NDP government in B.C. don’t have the authority to continue trying to block the project, John Horgan and his cabinet should give in and stop fighting. Among the majority that feels this way are more than one-third of those who say they are opposed to the project today.

Given these findings, the endgame begins to come into view. The Horgan government will bring a reference case to the B.C. Court of Appeal at the end of this month. A timely decision by the courts will provide clarity on jurisdiction. A ruling against the B.C. government’s plans will deflate much of the resolve to keep the fight going.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said repeatedly “this pipeline will be built.” But resolute words from politicians won’t make it happen. Threatening British Columbians won’t cow them into submission. And buying a stake in the project (something 56 per cent of Canadians say is a poor use of taxpayer funds) won’t allay concerns over the risk of a tanker breach in Burrard Inlet.

If words are to become action, the federal government must turn its attention, and commitment, to transparently, credibly and visibly demonstrating that its prevention and emergency spill response are good enough to build confidence and by extension, support for the plan.

This approach won’t win over everyone: While some First Nations in B.C. support the program, others have vowed to fight no matter what. But as this political and legal struggle reaches its climax, proponents of this project would do well to turn down the rhetoric, and listen to the message those whose opinions can be moved are trying to communicate.

Shachi Kurl is Executive Director of the Angus Reid Institute, a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation. The poll, and more information, can be found at: angusreid.org

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About Mel Rothenburger (6115 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on KURL – There’s a possible pathway to peace in the pipeline dispute

  1. When you say that 60 5 of British Columbians want the pipeline ,I say you can get the answer you want if you ask the question in a certain way.If you ask ” do you want the pipeline? many folks will say yes we need the jobs.If you ask them if they are willing to accept the possibly extreme consequences of a pipe rupture or a breached hull of a massive oil tanker or an exterpated population of Orcas you might find a different outcome.to your pole.
    If you ask is it OK for any other premier to threaten economic sanctions against another province ?What would your answer be then ???
    With a truly enlightened population about the consequences of tragedy I would bet quite a large sum of cash that the people of BC would turn your project down and tell Rachel to suck eggs as well as a Prime Minister who has lied to us and First Nations so many times his credability is gone.

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