For the past few years, proponents of resource development projects in British Columbia have had a difficult time explaining their goals to the public.
On the one hand, the angle of job creation is met with satisfaction from centre-right voters. On the other, a discrepancy on the definition of “environmental stewardship” can make centre-left voters oppose any sort of action that could be deemed detrimental to the planet.
A survey conducted by Research Co. on behalf of LNG Canada sought to find out just what would make British Columbians more supportive of specific resource development projects, and what actions — from proponents and opponents alike — fail to move the needle.
Across British Columbia, there are two issues that would make a majority of residents more likely to support resource development projects. The most important characteristic is “ensuring that the impact on the environment is limited.” Almost three in five residents (57 per cent) say that achieving this goal would make them more likely to support a specific resource development project.
More than half of British Columbians (53 per cent) say they would be more likely to support a resource development project that guarantees “that Canadians will get the first opportunity to work.”
These two broad themes — environmental stewardship and jobs for Canadians — succeed in garnering the backing of many British Columbians who supported any one of the three major provincial parties in the 2017 provincial election.
Ensuring that any environmental impacts are mitigated effectively moves two thirds of British Columbians who voted for the BC Green Party (66 per cent), three in five of those who voted for the BC New Democratic Party (NDP) (61 per cent) and more than half of those who voted for the BC Liberals (53 per cent).
The “jobs for Canadians” angle resonates widely with BC Liberal voters (64 per cent), but also moves roughly half of those who supported the BC NDP (49 per cent) and the BC Greens (48 per cent) two years ago.
A slightly smaller proportion of British Columbians (46 per cent) would be more likely to endorse a resource development project that provided “training and apprenticeship opportunities for young Canadians.” BC Liberal voters are decidedly in favour of this notion (59 per cent), while those who supported the BC NDP and the BC Greens are less enthused (40 per cent and 34 per cent respectively).
Two in five British Columbians (40 per cent) would be more likely to support a resource development project that both created “thousands of full-time and part-time jobs” and “contributed billions of dollars in taxes and revenues.” As was the case with the issue of apprenticeship opportunities, BC Liberal supporters become more supportive with these two characteristics than residents who voted for other provincial political parties.
More than a third of British Columbians (37 per cent) say that a project that has “the support of the majority of First Nations in the area that it is located in” would earn their approval. BC Green Party voters are more likely to cite this as an important consideration (50 per cent) than those who backed the BC NDP (39 per cent) or the BC Liberals (34 per cent).
Finally, when asked about their stance on a project that “specific groups have staged protests against,” the numbers fluctuate wildly. Only 17 per cent of British Columbians would be more likely to endorse a project on this basis alone, and 22 per cent say the protests would make them less supportive.
Two groups stand out in their position: 23 per cent of British Columbians aged 55 and over and 23 per cent of those who reside in Northern BC say protests would actually make them more supportive of resource development projects.
Residents of Northern BC are also more likely to express dismay over “nothing getting built in British Columbia” (67 per cent, compared to the provincial average of 51 per cent), more likely to believe that the province’s reputation “is harmed by protests against resource development projects” (68 per cent, compared to the provincial average of 52 per cent) and more likely to state that the provincial economy “would suffer if we cannot build resource development projects” (74 per cent, compared to the provincial average of 63 per cent).
Unanimity, as a guiding concept for the approval of resource development projects, is practically unattainable. There are specific ways to appeal to voters of all political stripes to win support for specific projects. As we have seen, some respond well to environmental concerns, while others are more worried about jobs and economic impact.
In any case, the survey shows a disconnect between residents of Metro Vancouver and those who live in the northern part of the province. There is a sizeable difference in perceptions related to resource development on a geographic basis, and British Columbians who could be the primary beneficiaries of some of these projects are upset with the idea of stagnation.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.