Albertans want Ottawa to fight for Keystone XL while most Canadians ready to move on, poll suggests

·4 min read

While two-thirds of Canadians believe the new U.S. president's cancellation of a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline expansion is bad for Alberta, most outside that province and Saskatchewan believe it's time to accept the decision and move on, a new poll suggests.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has called President Joe Biden's decision to effectively kill the $8 billion US project an insult from the United States to its biggest trading partner and wants Ottawa to slap sanctions against the U.S.

However, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Angus Reid Institute, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must balance support for Alberta's economy against national public sentiment that is deeply divided along regional lines.

The institute says its latest polling data found that 65 per cent of Canadians say Biden's decision is a "bad thing" for Alberta. At the same time, the majority of respondents in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada feel it is time to accept the decision and focus instead on other issues affecting the Canada-U.S. relationship.

Angus Reid Institute
Angus Reid Institute

"Despite majorities in each province recognizing the negative consequences the cancellation has for Alberta, and to a lesser extent, Canada as whole, the will to push back and try to reverse this decision is more milquetoast," said the institute's report.

The poll found that three out of five Canadians are inclined to accept the pipeline's cancellation. In Quebec, 74 per cent of respondents are of that view.

However, on the Prairies, a strong majority — 72 per cent in Alberta, and 67 per cent in Saskatchewan — would like to see the Biden White House undo the cancellation. People in Manitoba are split on the issue.

Institute president Shachi Kurl says people in the rest of Canada feel there are other, more pressing issues.

"And it's important to note this is not the issue that Canadians want to put first and foremost in terms of how they frame the next four years of Canada-U.S. relations," she said.

The polling data also suggests that the Keystone XL issue is viewed through a different lens depending on where in the country respondents are from.

Among Albertans, the poll found that 73 per cent see it more as an issue of jobs and the economy, while 27 per cent believe it should be seen as an issue related to climate change and the environment.

In Quebec, 63 per cent view the issue more through the lens of the environment and climate change, versus 37 per cent that see it as a jobs and economy issue, the poll suggests.

Political party allegiances also seemed to affect how respondents view the issue.

"Given the strong support the federal Conservatives have in Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is unsurprising that four in five past Conservative voters would apply pressure to reauthorize Keystone XL. Roughly the same proportion of Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois supporters say the opposite," the report said.

The view that the cancellation of Keystone XL will hurt Alberta's economy is highest among past Conservative Party of Canada voters, at 87 per cent, a concentration of whom are from Alberta, the poll suggests.

By contrast, among past NDP voters, 52 per cent are of that view.

The 1,897-kilometre pipeline, first proposed in 2005, would have carried 830,000 barrels of oilsands crude from Hardisty, Alta., to Nebraska, where it would then connect with the original Keystone that runs to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

Emergency Keystone XL debate in Commons

The House of Commons held an emergency debate Monday night regarding the scuttling of the pipeline project.

Seamus O'Regan, Canada's natural resources minister, argued that while the loss of Keystone XL is a disappointment, the new U.S. administration represents an opportunity to work together with a government aligned with Canada's priorities on clean energy.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole accused the government of not doing enough to advocate for the project that was creating thousands of good-paying jobs.

"Canada has been dealt a serious blow…. These are Canadians, thousands of them, being totally forgotten and left behind by this government," he said.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted its online survey from Jan. 20 to 24 among a representative randomized sample of 1,559 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum.

The institute says that for comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error is larger for subsamples by province in the methodology statement.