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Fewer Canadians back plans for new oil pipelines to West Coast ports: poll

A crude oil tanker escorted by tugboats arrives at the Kinder Morgan Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Support has declined for proposals to build western oil pipelines to help meet Asian demand, according to a new poll commissioned by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

The online survey conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion shows that 45 per cent of respondents nationally in March said they support the construction of new pipelines to West Coast ports, down from 53 per cent a year earlier.

Angus Reid, which conducted the survey of 3,474 Canadians from March 8 to March 18, said the results are accurate within plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

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British Columbians voiced growing opposition to constructing oil pipelines, with 60 per cent of respondents in March balking at new lines, compared with 44 per cent a year earlier. B.C. residents also showed strong disagreement with proposals that would allow more oil tankers – 65 per cent opposed in the latest survey, up from 56 per cent in the 2012 poll.

By contrast, approval ran highest in Alberta for pipeline developments to the West Coast. Sixty-seven per cent of the Alberta respondents in the new survey said they supported oil pipeline growth, down slightly from 69 per cent a year earlier.

"Canadians across the different provinces do not share the same views on energy infrastructure development to facilitate the export of oil and gas resources to Asia," said the 40-page report released by the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation. "The starkest contrast is between Albertans and British Columbians, who sit on either side of a very distinct regional divide, the former pushing for increased movement of oil and natural gas, the latter much more opposed to the idea."

New pipelines would clear the way for exporting oil in tankers to Asia. Asked whether they back plans for tankers to enter waters off the West Coast, 37 per cent of the respondents nationally said they approve, down from 45 per cent a year earlier.

The poll's results come as Enbridge Inc.'s proposal for its Northern Gateway oil pipeline project faces fierce opposition in British Columbia, while Kinder Morgan Canada Inc.'s plans to expand its Trans Mountain oil pipeline route encounters criticism in B.C. from environmentalists, civic politicians and First Nations leaders.

Currently, five oil tankers a month sail past picturesque sites such as Vancouver's Stanley Park to get to Kinder Morgan's Westridge terminal. Kinder Morgan envisages increasing the number of tankers docking at the terminal to 34 a month.

This year's poll added two new energy questions. Asked about plans for new natural gas pipeline capacity to the West Coast, 54 per cent of the respondents nationally said they approved. But asked about allowing tankers to carry liquefied natural gas to Asian markets, only 42 per cent of the respondents across Canada said they supported such a move. The B.C. government has touted LNG exports as the key to the province's long-term economic growth.

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Forty-five per cent of B.C. respondents said they favoured LNG tankers, compared with 54 per cent support in Alberta.

"Further, Canadians feel more inclined in 2013 to want to proceed cautiously with Asia when it comes to energy," said the Asia Pacific Foundation's report.

The proportion of respondents nationally who agreed that Canada must act immediately to feed Asia's appetite for energy fell to 53 per cent in this year's poll, compared with 61 per cent last year. Forty-nine per cent of those surveyed in March agreed with the view that it is smarter to nurture Canada's energy relationship with the United States instead of venturing "too quickly into Asia," up from 43 per cent in the 2012 poll.

On the issue of direct foreign investment in Canada, 76 per cent of respondents across the country in March said they would oppose deals that allow the government of China to control Canadian companies, up from 75 per cent a year earlier.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More


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