The pressure on Alberta to find a way out for its oil is increasing.
By: Mario Canseco
Residents of British Columbia and Alberta were recently asked by Insights West about the most important news stories of the year.
In B.C., the labour dispute between the provincial government and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation was the clear winner, but continuing discussions about Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipelines finished in second and third respectively.
In Alberta, during a volatile year that included the resignation of a sitting premier, the appointment of a new one, and the defection of an opposition leader to the governing party, the top story of the year was the plummeting price of oil.
For Western Canadians, energy continues to be an integral part of life, directly affecting the employment of those who are involved in the industry, and generating debate among those who are trying to find better ways to ship product overseas. The current state of affairs will undoubtedly lead to a renewed focus on pipelines, particularly among politicians.
In Alberta, Premier Jim Prentice closes the year with an approval rating of 52 per cent, buoyed by the recent decimation of the opposition Wildrose Party. Despite these numbers — extraordinary for a leader who has not been given a mandate by the electorate — Prentice will face a more difficult year if the price of oil continues to drop.
Prentice has talked publicly about the need for a Canada-wide discussion on energy, but with a federal election looming, the opportunity to sit down with other premiers and the prime minister is unlikely.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark has lower numbers — her level of support is at 34 per cent — and leads a government that has focused primarily on the nascent liquefied natural gas industry. There have been few official government pronouncements on the two oil pipelines that are on the minds of residents, a massive shift from the 2013 campaign during which Clark was widely seen as a staunch defender of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.
On Northern Gateway, four of the five conditions set by the provincial government in 2012 are still unsettled, but one of them — improved fiscal benefits for British Columbia — is not as elusive as it once appeared.
An Insights West survey conducted in early October, before the most severe drop in the price of oil, showed 62 per cent of Albertans would be okay with B.C. receiving a share of oil revenues from Northern Gateway. This was always one of the sticking points in the wobbly relationship between Clark and former Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Now, the circumstances may lead Alberta to offer B.C. a better deal on royalties, and meet at least one of the five conditions set by Clark.
For the past two years, Insights West has tracked the views of British Columbians on the two pipeline projects. This past summer, opposition to both Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain reached 49 per cent. Women and residents aged 18-34 were more likely to say that they do not want these projects happen. They worry predominantly about an increase in tanker traffic and the risk of an oil spill. Even if more revenues are secured from Alberta, these environmental concerns will still need to be addressed to ensure local support.
While the B.C. government continues to be more interested in LNG, the pressure on Alberta to find a way out for its oil is going to be greater than it has been for the past three years. Whether the ultimate destinations are Atlantic Canada with TransCanada’s Energy East, the United States with Keystone XL, or Asia with Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain, the conversations will continue.