Trucker rallies for pipelines send wrong message to Ottawa

Source: Abacus Data survey, Do you love oil? Hate oil? Either way, you’re in the minority.

Better message…Dear Prime Minister Trudeau: This is exactly what you did wrong (insert analysis here) and here is how to fix your mistakes (insert solution here).

Albertans have been rallying in support of the oil industry, including a “truckers for pipelines” rally near Edmonton Wednesday. The message is, “we want a pipeline now!” But if Alberta wants the Rest of Canada to listen, it needs a better message.

Vancouverites have also been protesting by the thousands…against the very pipeline – Trans Mountain Expansion – meant to carry Alberta oil to tidewater on the West Coast.

Convoy of trucks protesting delays to Trans Mountain Expansion construction on Wednesday. Source: CBC.

Together, both groups represent a small minority of Canadians, while the rest of the country couldn’t care less, according to an October poll from Abacus Data.

“When asked if they loved oil, hated oil, or ‘don’t have strong feelings about oil, it’s just a product that has some uses”, 73% chose the latter option to describe their view,” says Abacus chairman Bruce Anderson.

“No strong feelings about oil is the view of 72% in BC, 76% in Ontario, and 74% in Quebec.  A remarkably consistent 73% of NDP, Conservative, and Liberal voters say they have no strong feelings about oil.”

What about Albertans? Oil and gas is the beating heart of the provincial economy, don’t they love oil? Wasn’t the point of Wednesday’s rallies – like the one that started at Nisku and attracted 170 oil patch vehicles – to show the Rest of Canada that Albertans stand behind their industry?

Not as much as one might think. While 15 per cent of Canadians love oil, only 37 per cent of Albertans agree share that sentiment and 57 per cent have no strong feelings one way or the other.

Source: Abacus Data.

“Canadians are relentlessly pragmatic – they see oil as a product with many practical uses, want to see it phased out over time, but see economic value in making sure Canada is a successful participant in the world market for oil, as long as efforts are made to shift energy use over time.”

What, then, is the value of all those Alberta protests if Canadians aren’t listening?

Wednesday’s trucker’s rally that started in Drayton Valley and later snarled Edmonton traffic with over 1,000 trucks was organized by Truckers for Pipelines. Volunteer media coordinator Tom Hinderks of Drayton Valley says two more rallies are planned for the weekend and interest from other communities to hold an pro-pipeline event.

“The purpose of these rallies is to send a message to Prime Minister Trudeau to get the pipeline [Trans Mountain Expansion] built,” he said in an interview, adding that Ottawa has the legislative authority to over-ride the recent Federal Court of Appeal decision that quashed cabinet approval because of inadequate aboriginal consultation and the National Energy Board’s decision to not consider the impact of increased tanker traffic on the southern resident killer whale population.

Hinderks says he and others have “done the research” and believe the notwithstanding clause, among other federal powers, could be used get the 525,000 b/d pipeline projects from Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alberta and Burnaby, BC.

Unfortunately, constitutional scholars like Prof. Margot Young of the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC don’t agree with that argument.

“The notwithstanding clause doesn’t apply to section 35 [duty to consult aboriginals] of the Constitution, it only applies to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and only two clauses at that,” she said in an earlier interview. 

“There are often calls for the over-ride. People really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Right there is part of the problem. Calls for Ottawa to use federal declaratory powers (can’t do that) or to introduce legislation into Parliament to trump the Federal Court of Appeal (can’t do that, either) are often based on a half-baked understanding of how the Constitution and Canadian legal system work.

Prof. Google works about as well as Dr. Google does for medical opinions, it seems.

So, what’s going on here?

Bruce Anderson, chair, Abacus Data.

Anderson has one explanation: “For years, pro-oil advocates and anti-oil crusaders have tried to weaponize public opinion – with very little to show for these efforts.”

Turns out all that shouting and fist shaking and rolling coal down Anthony Henday Dr. doesn’t really move the national public opinion needle.

Canadians across the country have arrived at a very sensible position on the question of oil, gas, and pipelines. Not much is going to sway them – and certainly not 22 kms of semi-trucks blocking traffic outside Edmonton, as impressive as that may be for the TV cameras.

And that’s assuming anyone paid attention to yesterday’s rally in the Rest of Canada. Hint: they didn’t.

And if that is true, then really all these rallies and protests are just Albertans yelling at each other, whipping themselves into a sterile frenzy that accomplishes nothing.

Well, almost nothing.

Alberta has legitimate grievances.

Trudeau’s bungling of the pipeline file over the past 18 months and Tuesday’s utterly tone deaf offer to the oil and gas sector of $1.6 billion of debt, combined with Bill C69 and the prospect of more energy-related federal regulations coming down the pipeline (pun intentional), has stoked the fires of Alberta resentment.

That pressure was bound to burst the pipes (another intentional pun) sooner or later and has in the form of trucker rallies.

If Alberta wants to send a message to Ottawa, it should read something like this:

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau: This is exactly what you did wrong (insert analysis here) and here is how to fix your mistakes (insert solution here).

That message might actually get a response.

Alberta truckers yelling at each other that Alberta needs a new pipeline yesterday plays to a fairly limited audience: Alberta industry boosters.

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