Critics accuse Enbridge ads of misleading public after poll shows more support for pipeline

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Video by Krystle Alarcon

A survey conducted by Insights West shows British Columbians are warming up to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. But critics argue that Enbridge’s recent advertising campaigns skewed public opinion.

The online poll surveyed 749 people in B.C., as a follow-up to the company’s February poll. Support increased by seven points, from 35 per cent in February to 42 per cent in November. The questions did not change in the polls.

The pipeline, if approved, will be built by 2015 and will carry 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen oil from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat. It will also export 193,000 barrels per day of condensate eastbound, which will thin the oil for transport.

Mario Canseco, vice president of Insights West, said Enbridge’s ads might be one reason that the public has started to agree to the project.

SFU communications adjunct professor Donald Gutstein called Enbridge’s ads propaganda. “What’s going on is a full court press. It’s not just the oil company ads, its the Clark government, the Redford government, the Harper government pushing it in a multimode of different ways,” he said.

Gutstein is appalled by the wall-to-wall ads and commercials of Enbridge and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. "I must say I was a victim of those ads. I don't want to be subjected to them," he continued.

“I could agree to watch a commercial for a new scientifically developed hair shampoo. But when they’re political ads or ideologically focused ad, that takes us to other level,” he said.

Economist Robyn Allan said she wasn’t surprised, considering ministers had met with various communities to promote the project and Enbridge started running its commercials in the summer. 

But she said she has faith in British Columbians. “The vast majority don’t want the project,” Allan said.

After Allan researched Enbridge’s plans for two years, she said she has concluded that the company is not transparent. “They obfuscate, they provide imbalanced analysis. I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. For example, she said that the 3000 jobs that the company touts it would create at its peak will only last for three months.

Qualities of person, not a corporation?

Desmogblog leaked the planning documents for Enbridge’s ads and showed that the company’s theme was “Open to Better,” noting things like tone of voice. “When we are open, we are at our most human. We display all the qualities of a person, not a corporation,” the document states.

Indeed, the soft-spoken voice of the narrator in one of the commercials, seen below, sounds inviting and warm:


But UBC cultural anthropology student Elle Clark did not buy into the idea that Enbridge was proposing through the ad – that it will protect the environment. “I think it's BS. It's not possible for corporations to be responsible stewards of the environment while they benefit from destroying the lives of the people on that land,” she said.

A Douglas College environmental science student, Mary Salango, does see the benefits of the pipeline, after seeing the ad. “What’s the use of technology and education? The Enbridge pipeline is a huge project but in order for it to work out in a good way corporation is needed. Environmental, government, private and public sectors must work together for this project,” she said.

 Asked to respond on Gutstein’s analysis of the ads as propaganda, Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht responded via e-mail.  “Northern Gateway's outreach efforts in BC, including our advertising, are an invitation for British Columbians to share their views on the project with us and to receive important project information,” he said.

Canseco said other reasons why the public might have warmed up to the project are due to recent events, such as the train explosion in Lac-Megantic. That “may have led people to re-evaluate their views on shipping oil by rail,” he said.

He also added that because Premier Christy Clark decided to cancel fall legislative assembly sitting, political criticism of the pipeline is not as visible as it was earlier this year.

Correction: Ivan Giesbrecht's first name was misspelled as Ian in a previous version of the story. 

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