Less than 50% support Ottawa’s TMX expansion due to rising costs: poll

The expansion of the Canadian government-owned Trans Mountain oil pipeline advanced to a new construction stage, in Acheson, Alberta, Canada December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Candace Elliott

Rising costs associated with expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline are weighing on public support for the controversial government-owned energy project, according to a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute. 

The group found 55 per cent of those surveyed earlier this month said they supported tripling the capacity of the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. to about 890,000 barrels of diluted bitumen, lighter crudes and refined products per day.

That support slipped to 48 per cent after participants were informed of the bigger taxpayer burden associated with the latest cost projection.

Days prior to the survey, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a 70 per cent increase to the project’s three-year-old price tag - from $7.4 billion to $12.6 billion. 

“For seven per cent of respondents who were initially supporters, that extra cost is enough for them to jump ship,” Angus Reid said in a news release on Wednesday. “A corresponding seven per cent increase in opposition suggests that most of that group changed their opinion outright, from support to opposition.”

Morneau said the new projected cost is “in the range of the considerations” the government looked at when it purchased the pipeline from Houston-based Kinder Morgan (KMI) in 2018 for $4.5 billion, following a series of major setbacks.

"The project will deliver $1.5 billion of available cash flow once it's finished, which means it remains commercially viable and, I think, very interesting for the eventual commercial buyers that we're going to be seeking, because we don't intend on keeping this in government hands," Morneau told reporters on Feb. 7.

Trans Mountain, the federally owned company managing the project, has spent $2.5 billion, leaving an additional $8.4 billion needed to complete the project, plus $1.7 billion of financial carrying costs. Ottawa has also been advised to set aside an additional $600 million for unforeseen expenses.

Angus Reid found opposition to the project remains strongest in Quebec, at 61 per cent of those surveyed. Alberta continues to have the highest levels of support, at 85 per cent of those surveyed. 

The survey was conducted online from February 10 – 12, among a representative randomized sample of 1,508 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. A probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points.

With files from The Canadian Press