02/06/2013 09:41 EST | Updated 04/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Northern Gateway Pipeline Poll Reveals Rift Between B.C. And Alberta


As the federal review of the Northern Gateway pipeline plan continues, British Columbians and Albertans remain divided on the project's potential benefits and problems, and whether it should even go ahead.

A new poll by Insights West, a polling firm established in British Columbia last year, found only 35 per cent of British Columbians support the Northern Gateway pipeline (NGP), compared to 75 per cent of Albertans. Only 18 per cent of Albertans oppose the NGP, while 61 per cent of British Columbians are against it.

The poll, conducted via Insights West's online panel and surveying over 1,000 people from the two provinces in mid-January, shows 38 per cent of British Columbians strongly oppose the pipeline, and that men in both provinces are more likely to support the project.

There is general consensus that the NGP will bring some benefits to both Alberta and British Columbia: 83 per cent or more of Albertans agreed that the NGP would create new jobs, support economic growth, create new capital investment, lead to stronger relationships with countries in Asia, and increase tax revenue for the provincial government. Residents of B.C. were more skeptical, but a majority nevertheless agreed that the pipeline would bring all of these benefits.

However, only 40 per cent of British Columbians agreed that the pipeline would benefit First Nations communities. Earlier this week, Coastal First Nations withdrew from the hearings due to a lack of funds, which they say prevents them from competing with the deep pockets of Enbridge, the NGP's backer.

But despite seeing the benefits of the NGP, British Columbians are more concerned with the potential downsides of the project.

More than three-quarters of the poll's B.C. respondents agreed that, with increased traffic to Kitimat, there would be an increased risk of an oil spill, that the pipeline's construction would impact the local environment, that the NGP would infringe on First Nations' rights, that Enbridge "has a history of incidents including oil spills and poor pipeline assembly" and that they generally lack trust in the company.

Albertans had fewer issues with the plan, but nevertheless recognized these problems (55 to 74 per cent agreed that the above issues were of concern), but only 49 per cent said they lacked trust in Enbridge.

The poll clearly shows a divide between the two provinces, and understandably so. Alberta will benefit from being better able to export its oil to Asian markets, but British Columbians will shoulder the environmental risk.

But people in both provinces are not blindly supporting or opposing the project -- a significant number of British Columbians who oppose the NGP agree it could have benefits, while a large proportion of Albertans who want the project to go ahead recognize its risks. Therein lays the potential for a compromise between the two provinces.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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