CALGARY — A small majority of Canadians say they are against Ottawa’s $4.5-billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, a dramatic change in sentiment about the project in roughly a week.
A Forum Research poll of 969 Canadians found that 52 per cent of respondents disapprove of the federal government buying the existing Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and B.C. and its associated $7.4-billion expansion project.
Compounding the negative sentiment, however, is the number of respondents saying they strongly disapprove of the purchase (four out of 10) also outnumbers respondents who say they strongly approve (one out of 10) of the deal.
The poll, which has a margin of error of 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20, shows a sharp deterioration in public opinion about the Trans Mountain venture. A poll by Forum Research just over a week earlier showed more Canadians supported the project than opposed it. The only thing that has changed between the two polls is who owns the project
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced May 29 the federal government would buy the pipeline system from Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. for $4.5 billion.
“So it’s the purchase aspect of this that’s really sunk public opinion in terms of people liking the pipeline. What was a slight majority in favour of the pipeline now has become very negative — and strongly disapproving of that,” Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff said in an interview.
He said the poll shows that a majority of NDP supporters and a majority of Conservative supporters are against the government purchasing the project, and an alignment of those views on the left and right has caused the change in public opinion.
For example, 46 per cent of respondents who said they were likely to vote Conservative said they either disapproved or strongly disapproved of Ottawa’s deal with Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. Similarly, 74 per cent of people who said they’d vote NDP either disapproved or strongly disapproved.
“We have the previous opposition to the pipeline, based on (views that it is) hurting the environment, and now we’ve got the overlay of the government getting into the pipeline business,” Bozinoff said. “So now you’ve got the left against it for the predictable reasons of the environment and the right against it because it’s not a free market thing.”
But Bozinoff said the federal government could reverse some of that negative sentiment if it is able to sell the project.
Morneau, who led Ottawa’s negotiations with Kinder Morgan for the purchase of the pipeline, has said the federal government is not interested in being a long-term owner of the project, which he said belongs in the private sector.
“If they’re able to sell this project back to the private sector in the next year, then that’ll get them out of this thing,” Bozinoff said.
Kinder Morgan has kept its data room open to assist the federal government as it tries to find a third-party buyer for the pipeline. A handful of aboriginal groups, including the Fort McKay First Nation, have come forward and expressed an interest in investing.
Potentially offsetting the negative sentiment toward the pipeline purchase is positive sentiment toward the government’s handling of the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations.
In the same poll, Forum Research also found that 44 per cent of respondents approved of Ottawa’s handling of the ongoing NAFTA talks with the U.S., while 27 per cent said they disapprove and 29 per cent did not know.
Bozinoff said those polling figures could buoy the governing Liberals in vote-rich Ontario, which produces most Canadian steel, which was recently hit with tariffs from U.S. President Donald Trump.
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