OTTAWA—A new internal government poll suggests a majority of Canadians believe the economic benefit of expanding the country’s energy infrastructure trumps the potential environmental impact of such expansion.
But at the same time, the poll suggests, those same people are also concerned about the safety of that infrastructure—whether it be the government’s ability to respond to oil spills or the equipment that delivers the oil in the first place.
Energy issues are top of mind for the Conservative government these days, from the potential economic fallout of plunging oil prices to the waiting game surrounding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Earlier this year, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) conducted a $174,000 study involving 16 focus groups, which was followed up by a telephone survey to gather and assess Canadian opinions on energy.
In the survey, carried out in July 2014, by research firm Harris/Decima, 46 per cent of respondents said they considered building energy infrastructure to be important to the economy, even if there was environmental impact.
Another 41 per cent of respondents had a different opinion.
They agreed with the statement: “The environmental impact of building ports, roads, pipelines, and rail infrastructure is too high and … the possibility of an accident means that it should not be developed even if it means lost jobs and economic growth.”
The telephone survey of 3,030 people carried a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The focus groups provided more insight into the concerns expressed in the poll.
“A number of participants expressed safety or environmental concerns, based on a sense that pipelines are susceptible to leaks,” the report on focus groups said.
“Similarly, there was concern over spills occurring in coastal waters, especially if tankers needed to navigate what were perceived to be very narrow and challenging passes.”
The report was posted online, with the specific poll results provided to The Canadian Press by NRCan.
When it comes to oil spills, respondents to the poll didn’t express much confidence in how they are managed.
Results found 41 per cent of respondents weren’t confident about the government’s response to spills on land, while 46 per cent said the same thing about the response to spills on water.
Energy transportation and environmental safety were, however, among the only things those in the focus groups told researchers they remember hearing about from the government on the broader subject of resource development—that despite a sustained barrage of government advertising in recent years.
And they wanted to know more.
“While few were able to identify messaging about resource development from the federal government, participants expressed a desire to better understand the benefits and risks of resource development in Canada, including spill, remediation and reclamation plans as well as Canada’s investment in alternative sources of energy,” the report said.
In 2013-14, NRCan had around $40 million budgeted for advertising—$24 million for advertising abroad and $16.5 million for the domestic market.
A spokesperson for the department said the study wasn’t designed to measure the effectiveness of the ad campaign.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was edited to correct the abbreviation for Natural Resources Canada.