01/17/2014 10:45 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Poll Suggests Most Canadians Want Keystone Pipeline Built, But Support Declining


Canadians have a mixed view of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline but a majority still support the government approving the project, according to a new poll.

The survey released on Wednesday, conducted by Nanos Research on Dec. 14-16 and interviewing 1,000 Canadians, found the country split down the middle on their perspectives of Keystone. About 48 per cent said their views of the project were either positive or somewhat positive, while 46 per cent viewed it negatively or somewhat negatively.

Positive views were highest in Atlantic Canada and the three Prairie provinces, at just over 50 per cent. Negative views were most prevalent in British Columbia, however, with 63 per cent having negative or somewhat negative feelings about the pipeline. Barely one-third of British Columbians said they had a positive view of the project in a province where a divisive debate over pipelines has been raging for months.

But it appears some Canadians, while holding negative views of the Keystone pipeline project, are nevertheless willing to see it go ahead.

When asked whether they supported the Canadian government approving the project, 52 per cent said they did or somewhat did and just 40 per cent said they did not. Again, support was highest in Atlantic Canada (59 per cent) and the Prairies (56 per cent), while opposition was highest in B.C. (54 per cent). On both their views of the pipeline and whether it should be supported, residents of Quebec and Ontario had similar opinions to the national consensus.

But the Keystone XL pipeline is becoming less popular in Canada.

Nanos Research asked the same questions in April, 2013 and found 60 per cent of respondents had a positive or somewhat positive view of the project at that time, and 68 per cent supported the government approving it. On both of these scores, support has dropped significantly.

However, as the methodology employed by Nanos changed between the two surveys — the first was done only over the telephone, the second was a hybrid telephone and online poll — it might not be appropriate to compare the results directly. But with such a significant drop it seems clear that opinion is hardening against the project.

The poll also suggests there are some important differences between the opinions of men and women and between younger and older Canadians. Fully 60 per cent of men said they supported the government approving the project, compared to just 43 per cent of women. Fifty-six per cent of men had a positive view of it, while only 38 per cent of women felt the same.

Support also increased as respondents got older. Of respondents aged 60 or over, support for approval stood at 62 per cent. Among respondents aged 29 or younger, support was 45 per cent. Support was even lower among those between the ages of 30 and 39, but increased among respondents in their 40s and 50s.

What might explain this change of opinion on the Keystone XL pipeline?

One might expect the widely reported train derailments over the past few months would increase support for transporting oil by pipeline, but the accidents may have instead highlighted the dangers of moving oil by any means.

Projects aimed at transporting Western Canada's oil across the country to the east instead of south into the United States may also be changing the focus.

Nevertheless, more Canadians still support going ahead with the project instead of halting it.

A recent poll by Bloomberg News shows Americans are also on board, with 56 per cent saying it represents an opportunity to improve U.S. energy security compared to just 35 per cent who consider it a potential threat to the environment.

But with support dropping in Canada, the window for striking a deal may be closing.

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

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