If the federal Liberals were as popular as the Trans Mountain pipeline, they would win the upcoming election in a landslide.
The problem for the Liberals is that the pipeline is most popular where voters are least likely to vote Liberal and least popular where voters traditionally vote Liberal.
According to an Angus Reid poll, the strongest support for the pipeline is in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 85 and 71 percent respectively (ArmchairMayor.ca, June 21, 2019). That’s where Liberal support is weak. Only a total of five seats were won by the Liberals in the combined provinces. Meanwhile in Quebec, 40 percent disapprove. That’s where the Liberals won 40 seats.
While support for the pipeline in B.C. is 54 per cent, that average doesn’t reflect the difference of opinion between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. People in the Interior generally support the pipeline because of jobs and financial incentives offered by Trans Mountain. An informal poll by Kamloops This Week showed 80 per cent approval. The Lower Mainland opposes the pipeline because of potential spills.
Conservatives are placed in the awkward position of approving of the pipeline while disapproving the Liberals. Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, doubted the government’s ability to finish the job:
“I’m not all that optimistic that this government can get it done,” McLeod told Kamloops This Week. Her statement aligns with the Angus Reid poll where 40 percent of respondents didn’t think the pipeline would be built.
Another perceived hurdle is Bill C-69, passed by the Senate last week, which critics say will ensure that the pipeline will never be built.
Bill C-69 imposes more requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered in the building of any development.
The Alberta-based Pembina Institute is cautiously positive of Bill C-69:
“This bill was never about individual projects, but rather a reform of the entire decision-making and assessment process. It is about creating tools and processes to ensure natural resource development decisions, whether about a mine or a dam or a pipeline, are made in a fair way (press release, June 14, 2019) “
If pipelines don’t determine how people vote, what does? Pollster Michael Adams has noticed something new in the way people view immigrants. Twenty years ago, anti-immigrant sentiment was evenly distributed among all three major parties. That’s changed, say Michael Adams, Ron Inglehart, and David Jamison in their article:
“Conservative supporters are more likely to agree with statements strongly hostile to immigration. For example, 50 per cent of Conservatives strongly or somewhat agree that “Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of the country.” Fewer than a third of New Democrats (31 per cent) and Liberal supporters (24 per cent) share this belief. This relative concentration of xenophobic sentiment in one party is a new phenomenon in Canada (Globe and Mail, June 14, 2019).”
The researchers are careful to point out that the Conservative Party is not anti-immigrant: they just attract people who are.
Researchers call this the “authoritarian reflex,” a reaction caused by uncertainty and characterized by increased hostility toward “the other,” regardless of whether they are “deviants” in society or foreigners.
The contagion of populism that has been animated by the authoritarian reflex in the U.S. has spilled over into Canada. It will determine the way people vote in way not seen in recent history.