Another Unpopular Pipeline: Canadians Prefer Protecting the Climate Over Building Energy East and Expanding the Tar Sands

A week after TransCanada announced that it would abandon a key element of its proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline and delay the project by at least two years, a new poll released this week reveals that the project lacks serious support from Canadians. Designed to carry 1.1 million barrels of tar sands crude per day (bpd) from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick, the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline depends on loading ocean-bound oil tankers for further transport to U.S., European, and other world markets. Billed as a "nation building" project supporting energy independence, Energy East is really just another attempt by the tar sands industry to lock in expanded production of its carbon-intensive product for sale to the highest bidder--even if that means exporting the oil.

But apparently Canadians aren't buying the hype.

In a poll conducted by Oracle Research Limited, a random national sample of 3,040 Canadians were asked their opinions on a range of issues related to Energy East, climate change, and the tar sands. Their responses were illuminating, not just in regard to Energy East and the tar sands, but also in regard to the direction Canadian energy policy should be taking in the face of global climate change. Below are several highlights from the poll:

  • 61% of respondents agreed/strongly agreed that protecting the climate was more important than pursuing plans to build the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline and expand development of the tar sands.
  • For those who would be most closely affected by the proposed pipeline, the numbers were even worse for TransCanada--

    • 71% of Québecers
    • 67% of Ontarians
    • 60% of New Brunswickers
  • agreed/strongly agreed that protecting the climate was more important than pursuing plans to build the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline and expand development of the tar sands.
  • Overall, far more Canadians oppose the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline than support it (47% opposed vs. 36% in favor).

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On questions of energy policy and Canada's roll as a leader in fighting climate change, the results of the poll were similarly remarkable:

  • 72% of respondents believe that federal policy makers need to have a plan in place for creating more jobs in the clean and renewable energy sector.
  • 58% of respondents believe that Canada should commit to phasing out the use of coal, oil, and gas, to be replaced with renewable energy sources.
  • 60% of respondents believe that climate change policies like a legally enforceable cap on climate pollution are necessary.

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In a stark repudiation of the much-derided National Energy Board (NEB), respondents appeared to strongly favor open, inclusive decision-making on future projects and proposals. 78% of respondents believe that citizens should have a say in projects related to the tar sands like Energy East. Meanwhile, 85% believe that project proposals submitted to the NEB should be translated into both English and French--a clear expression of disgust after a Federal Court refused to require TransCanada to submit a full French translation of its project application to the NEB, leaving Canada's substantial francophone population without the means of reading the proposal in their native language.

This week's poll confirms prior polling that showed Canada's leaders to be out of touch with the general Canadian public. Belief in the importance of stewarding the environment and concerns about climate change aren't new, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears to have stopped paying much attention to calls for a change in direction. Indeed, Canada not only failed to make an announcement about new 2025 climate pollution targets a few weeks ago, but its own environmental agencies have disclosed that it will not come close to meeting its promised emission reductions by 2020. With overwhelming support for a pivot on national energy policy, it is time for Canadian leaders to look beyond the tar sands and the infrastructure they currently depend upon and lay the groundwork for Canada to be a different kind of energy leader.