Trudeau Liberals’ popularity surprisingly strong in BC, Alberta – can it survive Trans Mountain Expansion?

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau surprisingly popular in BC and Alberta. Photo: Justin Trudeau/Facebook.

Trudeau Liberals handling of upcoming pipeline protests could seriously damage – or help – popularity in BC, Alberta

A new public opinion poll from Abacus Data shows the federal Liberals with surprisingly high popularity in British Columbia despite Ottawa’s approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and in Alberta where the the party received only a quarter of the popular vote in the 2015 Canadian election. The pollsters chalk up the positive news for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the consequence of a growing national economy.

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“What these initial numbers show is that many people are feeling better about current economic conditions and are not showing any rise in fatigue with or frustration with the federal government,” said Abacus Chairman Bruce Anderson in a press release.

“Despite a series of difficult decisions by the federal government, we find little evidence that Canadians feel any worse about the government today than they did in May,” adds CEO David Coletto.

“The government’s approval rating is up slightly, its share of the vote remains stronger than it received at the last election, and most Canadians are feeling good about their current and future economic prospects.”

British Columbia voter intentions not yet affected by pipeline politics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Nov. decision to approve construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline has been roundly criticized in Metro Vancouver. When Kinder Morgan begins construction this fall, widespread and potentially violent protests are expected in the lower mainland.

Liberal strategists have done the calculations and decided that the political benefits outweighed the costs.

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David Coletto, CEO, Abacus Data.

“Even if an election were held tomorrow we’d lose perhaps four seats in British Columbia. As for 2019, it looks as though we’ll lose two,” said a well-placed Liberal in Dec.

If the Abacus insights hold, the Libs might not even lose that many. If an election were held today, the party would garner 40 per cent of the vote, Conservatives would take 27 per cent, the NDP 16 per cent, and the Green Party would receive 15 per cent.

“The Liberal Party’s electoral coalition of young, urban and suburban middle-class voters, new Canadians plus well-educated Boomers remains intact,” said Coletto.

But that doesn’t explain why BC voters aren’t turning against the Liberals over the TMX issue.

“One issue is often not enough to shift voters. In BC, as in other parts of the country, perceptions that the economy is doing well and Canada seems to be on a roll is helping boost Liberal support,” Coletto wrote in an email in response to my questions.

“A majority of residents in every province now feel the Canadian economy is growing. That’s a marked shift since the end of 2016.”

That majority of Canadians who think the economy is growing has hit 68 per cent. Abacus says this is easily the strongest number it has seen since the last federal election.

British Columbia residents are in line with the national mood, registering 69 per cent.

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Alberta warmer to Liberals, Trudeau than expected

Alberta is the most pessimistic in the country about the economy, coming in at 52 per cent, a result that may be explained by the depth of the downturn that started two years ago, which is still not over for many workers, as the pick up in employment lags other economic indicators.

Calgary has been particularly hard hit, as many professional and technical workers were laid off in the face of $20/b oil and they haven’t been hired back yet.

And the feeling is growing that many of them won’t be, as the oil sands producers switch from new, greenfield investments to much less capital-intensive brownfield (i.e. existing facilities and fields) developments.

Nevertheless, 31 per cent of Albertans say they would vote Liberal if an election were held today and 37 per cent approve of the Trudeau Government’s performance.

“There’s a long history of anti-Liberal sentiment in Alberta going back to the 1940s.  The last time the federal Liberals won the popular vote in Alberta was in 1940.  In 1968, Pierre Trudeau won 36% of the vote but the party has never come close to that again since,” Coletto wrote in his email.

“In 2015, the Liberals got 25% of the vote, the highest they had achieved since 1993. So based on our poll, the Liberals are doing as well or even a bit better in Alberta than they did during the 2015 election.”

Conclusion

While the federal Liberals remain surprisingly popular, the warm fuzzy feelings felt by British Columbia voters may not survive the upcoming pipeline fireworks, which will almost certainly entail large protests (probably a huge “protest camp” like the 5,000 person operation at the Standing Rock Sioux community in North Dakota, which was created to protest the Dakota Access pipeline), intervention by the RCMP and mass arrests, and media saturation that can reasonably be expected to sway some voters currently sympathetic to the Trudeau Government.

Ironically, the Trudeau Government’s actions in BC to support Trans Mountain Expansion construction could also cost it voters in Alberta, where conservative industry boosters have long criticized the Prime Minister for not doing enough.

Any perception in Alberta that Trudeau is faltering or willing to make concessions to the pipeline opponents could lead to a decline in Liberal support.

Trudeau has handled energy and climate politics deftly to this point, as the Abacus Data poll demonstrates. British Columbians and Albertans will be closely watching his performance starting this fall, when he will face what may be the biggest political challenge of his government.

Poll Methodology

The survey was conducted online with 2,036 Canadians aged 18 and over from July 14 to 18. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians. The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys.  The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 2,036 is +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20.

The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

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