By Len Coad
In the Vancouver Sun

Nov. 1, 2013


A recent Canada-wide public opinion poll co-sponsored by the Canada West Foundation tested the public’s attitude toward natural resource development and found that Canadians support development but do not trust government and industry to do it right.

Oil sands development and paths to market are a hot button issue, so let’s start there. More than 80% of Canadians support continued oil sands development – a resounding endorsement. However, the supporters are relatively evenly divided between those who say that oil sands development should carry on as-is, and those who support a slower pace. Further, only 55% feel that the oil sands industry provides significant benefits for the whole country. Opposition to oil sands development is strongest in Quebec at 30%, and is just 12% or less in the West, Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

Not surprisingly, almost 80% of Canadians believe that we should process more of our natural resources (including oil) prior to export.

Regarding market access, 62% feel that President Obama should approve the Keystone XL project. The Energy East project (which would send oil from Alberta to eastern Canada) and Northern Gateway (which would send oil to Asia via the BC coast) were supported by 50% or more of respondents, with Kinder Morgan’s expansion (which would send oil from Alberta to Asia via the BC coast) coming in at 49% support. In addition, almost two-thirds of those polled believe that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and gas.

The message is clear. Canadians overwhelmingly support continued oil sands development, although many believe that the rate of growth needs to be moderated. Canadians strongly support pipelines as the safest transport option and support building pipelines to reach all three major markets tested: eastern Canada, Asia (via pipeline and tanker, of course) and the US.

The poll also revealed some issues that need to be addressed by both governments and industry through more than talking points and advertising campaigns. When asked whether the industry does a good job of balancing economic growth and environmental protection, just 37% responded positively for oil and gas compared to 69% for agriculture and 58% for forestry.

Barely one-third agree that the oil and gas industry does a good job of respecting the views of local communities affected by resource development. The federal and provincial governments received marginally better results for the same questions, but did not exceed 45% support in either category. Federal and provincial environmental regulatory bodies also got failing grades.

The bottom line is that Canadians feel that resource development in general provides economic benefits and does so across Canada. Not surprisingly, this perception is conditional on the geographic distribution of the resource. Agriculture is most strongly perceived as benefitting the entire nation, followed by forestry, mining, oil and gas in general, oil sands, and shale gas. Unfortunately, we don’t trust the oil and gas industry or government to find the balance between economic benefits, the interests of local communities and the environment.

Social licence is primarily about individual citizens and communities supporting resource development industries and projects. This support is depends upon protecting the environment, being fair with all, and achieving positive outcomes. Despite the efforts of groups that oppose development, a large majority of Canadians generally support resource development. At the same time, the efforts of industry and government to garner the trust of Canadians to do that development right are also not proving to be very effective.

This survey shows clearly that Canadians generally view resource development in a positive light, but they also have serious concerns that need to be addressed.

The full survey results can be found at The poll of 2,000 Canadians was undertaken by CROP and was commissioned by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, the Canada West Foundation, The Federal Idea and the Mowat Centre.