Pipeline go-ahead raises risks for Canada's Conservatives

Wed Jun 18, 2014 6:09pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer and Julie Gordon

OTTAWA/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Its decision to approve development of the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline could cost Canada's governing Conservatives critical support in British Columbia, where they will need a strong showing in the 2015 election to secure another majority in Parliament.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives have lots to lose in the Pacific Coast province, where they have 21 of its 36 seats in the House of Commons. As well as the seats they hold, they are banking on picking up some of six new seats, in Vancouver's suburbs and elsewhere, that British Columbia will get for next year's election.

"The government loses unless it can win in places like that," Ipsos Reid pollster Darrell Bricker said.

The C$7.9 billion ($7.2 billion) pipeline project would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to the Pacific Coast, where it would be shipped to Asian markets. The project is backed by business groups but opposed by environmentalists, many native communities and opposition parties.

While the Conservatives won many of their seats in British Columbia by strong margins, their support has dropped substantially from the 2011 election, increasing their vulnerability.

Ekos pollster Frank Graves said he guessed that a significant fraction of British Columbians who voted Conservative in 2011 would be unhappy with the Northern Gateway decision.

"In British Columbia, I can't imagine this wouldn't be damaging to the Conservatives given the strength of opposition there," he said.

A new online poll issued by Angus Reid on Wednesday found British Columbian public opinion more opposed to the Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO: Quote) pipeline than in favor: 40 percent versus 38 percent, with the rest undecided. Opposition to the project was twice as strong in British Columbia as in neighboring Alberta.   Continued...

Demonstrators protest on the streets following the federal government's approval of the Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver, British Columbia June 17, 2014.   REUTERS/Ben Nelms