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Enbridge's knee-jerk reaction to poll doesn't change BC's opposition to Northern Gateway

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Video of anti-Enbridge pipeline protest in Vancouver by Krystle Alarcon

Yesterday afternoon, Enbridge released a video with the apparent purpose of discrediting my firm’s poll about the Northern Gateway pipelines and tanker proposal.

The video takes the position that activist groups released a misleading poll, which claims a majority of B.C. residents is against the Northern Gateway Pipeline. According to Enbridge, these activists misrepresented the facts.


Enbridge cites the following as inaccurate:

“Up until now, crude oil supertankers have not entered B.C.’s inside passage…. The federal government is now considering allowing crude oil supertankers in these waters.” (View unedited questions and results here.)

I thought they might object to our reference to oil spills, but they edited these words out of our question in their video. Enbridge objects to our use of “inside passage” to describe the waterways the tankers would use for transport. We also use “northern inside coastal waters” and “coastal inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest” to describe this region.

Fair enough. “Inside passage” was not the correct term to describe their entire crude oil tanker route. But oil tankers will, at a minimum, cross the waters known formally as the The Inside Passage. Moreover, they will travel waters colloquially known as the inner or inside passage, the region between the major islands (of Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island) and the mainland. Although Enbridge stated during the Joint Review Panel process that the region known  as the inside passage is not a part of their current transport plans, these statements are not legally binding or enforceable. Nonetheless, JMI will update the question accordingly in future polling.

Will swapping out these words change the research findings? Of course not.

We’ve asked the questions four times over the past two years. Consistently, two-thirds oppose Northern Gateway’s plan to introduce crude oil tankers to B.C.’s coastal waters.

Let’s leave my firm’s work aside for the moment.

Our colleagues locally and nationally also cover this topic. Polls that present the project without mentioning tankers generally find fewer than half of BCers supportive: 47% in the most recent Maple Leaf Strategies survey and 42% in Insights West’s November 2013 poll).

Why the difference from my firm’s 29% support figures? B.C. residents are more concerned about the impact of tankers on the B.C. coast than they are about pipelines. When these pollsters present potential concerns of the Northern Gateway project, tanker traffic and oil spills are top concerns, regardless of residents’ support or opposition to the proposal.

Less than half of B.C. residents support the proposal when we’re discussing just the pipeline. When reminded that tankers are a critical element in their proposal, support drops about 20 points. I raised this nearly two years ago in an oped to The Vancouver Sun, ”Oil Tankers, not pipelines, are the hot potato issue.”

As I said in April 2012, “If the researcher asks British Columbians about pipelines, about 50 per cent are relatively tolerant right now. If the researcher asks about pipelines and supertankers, tolerance diminishes.”

B.C. residents are an intelligent and engaged community. More and more BCers are coming to understand that the only way to transport piped crude oil from Kitimat is by tanker through inside coastal waters. That this worries residents is what we have captured in our polls since March 2012.

In a separate complaint about our poll, Enbridge again excludes the rest of our question when they claim we misled respondents by stating:

“Some people say our governments are best able to make informed decisions about proposals like Enbridge’s pipelines and tanker proposal without involving the public.”

Here is the excluded portion:

“Others say that the public should participate in decision making processes like this. Which is closer to your view?”

The video’s producers cherry-picked arguably one-and-a-half questions from our poll’s seven. 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. In the process they seek to discredit my firm’s work and damage our reputation.

To be clear, Justason Market Intelligence is not an activist firm. Our clients include the full range of organizations with operations in British Columbia including corporations, governments, commercial and residential developers, not-for-profits and industry associations. We work with major employers in all sectors of the economy, including the natural resource sector.

Enbridge has not engaged in a substantive critique of the value of our research. Instead, their video attempts to distract discussion from B.C. residents’ meaningful concern about a plan that would bring supertankers to British Columbia’s northern coastal waters.

The genie is out of the bottle. Public concern about tankers along B.C.’s coast is not going away. Polling firms haven’t caused this concern. Quite frankly, the activists haven’t either. Enbridge would serve itself and its constituents far better by acknowledging and addressing public concern. Even were it warranted, attacking a small piece of my firm’s body of work will not assuage public concern. It may even be seen as a bullying tactic.

Not that British Columbians are worried about me. B.C. residents are a lot more concerned about supertankers along B.C.’s coast than they are about pollsters.


Republished with permission from Justason Market Intelligence. 


1. February 4 Release: Opposition to supertankers in BC’s inside coastal waters continues
2. Questions and charts

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