Analysis

Notley seen as political leader most responsible for pushing Trans Mountain pipeline ahead, new poll suggests

A new poll conducted for CBC News suggests 42 per cent of Albertans think Premier Rachel Notley is the politician most responsible for pushing the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion ahead.

Premier gets top billing among Albertans, but she shares credit with other politicians

An aerial view of the Trans Mountain marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Remember back to the end of May.

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion deadline loomed, and the fate of the $7.4-billion expansion was in doubt.

The war of words between Alberta and British Columbia escalated, seemingly, by the day. Weeks before, Bill 12, the so-called turn-off-the-taps legislation, was passed by the Alberta Legislature, threatening to choke off fuel shipments to British Columbia.

Dialing up the rhetoric, Premier Rachel Notley backed out of the Western premiers' meeting, citing the Trans Mountain deadline in late May.

The premier invested considerable energy — and political capital — on the issue.

So, on May 29, just hours after Ottawa announced it would buy the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion, a beaming Notley told cheering members of her staff and NDP caucus in Edmonton to "pick up those tools, folks, we have a pipeline to build."

A little provincial political theatre to mark the federal deal.

But who, exactly, was going to get credit for the agreement?

A new poll conducted for CBC News suggests 42 per cent of Albertans think Notley is the politician most responsible for pushing the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion ahead. While a majority of Albertans support the federal government's purchase of Trans Mountain, an equal number remain skeptical about the expansion happening on time.

And Notley shares credit, according to the CBC News poll, with a couple of people, including a political rival.

Credit, yes — but shared credit

Notley was the top pick among Albertans in the random survey conducted by Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown.

Respondents were asked which political leader — Notley, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, UCP Leader Jason Kenney or someone else — they think is most responsible for pushing the Trans Mountain pipeline ahead.

While the NDP premier gets top billing among Albertans, she shares the credit with other politicians, including Trudeau, who is the pick of 27 per cent of Albertans.

Notley, reacting to the poll while in Calgary on Thursday, sent an emailed statement to CBC News, saying that getting a pipeline built to Canadian tidewater has been a priority from day one of her premiership.

"Albertans are also owed a great deal of credit for getting this project as far along as it is," she wrote.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is applauded at a news conference after speaking about the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, in Edmonton on May 29. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Notley's rival, Kenney, gets credit for pushing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion ahead among 13 per cent of Albertans.

But the random poll suggests 18 per cent of Albertans are unsure about which politician is most responsible for getting a Trans Mountain deal.

"Yes, Rachel Notley gets sort of top marks for being responsible," said Brown, "but people realize that it wouldn't have happened without Justin Trudeau, and there's a large contingent of Albertans that think it probably wouldn't have happened without Jason Kenney pushing for it as well."

Calgary-based Janet Brown conducted the poll for CBC News that suggests 42 per cent of Albertans think Premier Rachel Notley is the politician most responsible for pushing the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion ahead. (CBC)

Edmontonians are more likely to credit Notley (49 per cent) than Calgarians (43 per cent). Outside the province's two major cities, 36 per cent picked Notley. Those most likely to see Notley as most responsible include those who strongly approve of the federal government's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Six out of 10 Albertans say they support the deal.

But will that support for Ottawa's purchase of the pipeline, and the acknowledgment Notley gets from the public, give her party, which has languished in recent polls, a boost less than a year out from an expected provincial election?

More than 1 issue

Longtime Alberta political watcher Duane Bratt calls the Trans Mountain deal "a necessary condition" for the NDP to have a chance in the election.

But the Mount Royal University political scientist cautions that voters are complex and evaluate politicians and parties on more than just one issue at a time.

This, despite how the pipeline issue appears to have become a proxy for the economy in many voters' minds.

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, says the Trans Mountain deal was 'a necessary condition' for the NDP to have a chance in the next election. (Bryan Labby/CBC )

"I don't know if that's going to be enough" for Notley and the NDP, said Bratt.

"The problem for the NDP," said Brown regarding Alberta voters, "is they may be giving her credit on this one project, but it doesn't seem to be translating into greater political support for the party."

It's a sentiment shared by some in Calgary's oilpatch.

Oilpatch confidence

From the 27th floor of his glass office tower in downtown Calgary, energy portfolio manager Rafi Tahmazian derides Ottawa's $4.5-billion purchase.

He says the federal government should have never let things deteriorate to the point where it had to buy the pipeline.

"Should the government be purchasing a pipeline or trying to keep it in the private sector?" Tahmazian mused.

"I would say the vast majority of Canadians should say we need to keep [the Trans Mountain pipeline] in the private sector."

Tahmazian thinks most Albertans support the federal government's pipeline purchase begrudgingly, and see the intervention as preferable to no pipeline at all.

Rafi Tahmazian, a global energy portfolio manager with Canoe Financial, says many energy investors no longer see Canada as a favourable place to put their money. (Justin Pennell / CBC)

But he calls the deal a "shot across the bow" to global investors. Canada, he says, is no longer seen by many energy investors as a favourable place to put their money.

"Our foreign capital access," said Tahmazian, "is now truncated."

"Foreign markets see us as a massively regulated, anti-energy policy country, and the money has fled."

And public confidence in getting the pipeline built on time is also fleeting.

Public skepticism about pipeline timeline

While Kinder Morgan says it intends to restart construction next month, six out of 10 Albertans, according to the CBC News poll, do not think the expansion will be finished by the 2020 target.

Despite that uncertainty, Albertans do remain optimistic Trains Mountain will — eventually — get expanded, allowing oilsands bitumen to flow to the West Coast.

  • ​See the full poll below. If you can't see it, click this link.
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The random survey of 900 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method from June 12-19, 2018, by Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative along regional, age and gender factors. The margin of error is +/- 3.3. percentage points, 19 times out of 20, and larger for subsets.

The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time or later, or completing it online.


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions, as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca.


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