Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Quebecers are all opposed to Western Canadian crude, and to the infrastructure required to carry it to Quebec and the Atlantic. After all, our duly elected representatives, both at the provincial level and at the municipal level, seem to be falling over each other lately to speak out against oil and pipelines.
The truth of the matter, though, according to a Leger poll commissioned by my organization, is that 59% of Quebecers think it is preferable for the oil imported from outside the province to come from Western Canada, versus a total of just 13% who think it preferable that we import it from other countries (and another 28% who either had no opinion or refused to answer).
That’s pretty much a slam dunk. Indeed, Quebec doesn’t produce any oil to speak of at the moment, but since we use plenty of it—and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future—it has to come from somewhere. Most Quebecers who have an opinion on the matter think it makes a lot of sense to get it from Western Canada.
As for how we should get it here, again, Quebecers’ opinions diverge from those expressed by many prominent politicians. Fully 41% consider pipelines to be the safest means to transport oil, far ahead of those who think that trucks (14%), ships (10%), or trains (9%) are the safest.
Quebecers are also much more positive than one might imagine about developing our own oil resources. Over twice as many (54%) think the province of Quebec should exploit the oil resources that exist here, versus those (23%) who think we should continue importing all of the oil we use from outside our borders.
Of particular interest is the fact that those who identify with the province’s Liberal Party, which is currently in power, are even more favourable to oil and pipelines than the average Quebecer: 75% think it’s better for the oil imported from outside Quebec to come from Western Canada rather than from someplace else in the world, and 56% consider pipelines the safest means of getting it here. As for developing Quebec’s own resources, those who identify with the Liberal Party are about as favourable as the average at 57%.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard may worry publicly about the “savaging” of the natural environment of Anticosti Island, where significant deposits of recoverable oil are likely to be found. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre may get into a nasty war of words while joining some of his counterparts in opposing the Energy East Pipeline, to the point of insulting Albertans by suggesting, as he did, that they think The Flintstones is a documentary.
But Quebecers, by and large, are not on board with these negative messages. We want our oil to be developed, and we want Western Canadian oil to flow here, preferably by pipeline. I do hope that, going forward, Quebecers’ actual opinions regarding public policy choices on these matters (as opposed to those of the loudest pressure groups) will be taken into account.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon est président et directeur général de l'Institut économique de Montréal. Il signe ce texte à titre personnel. Ce texte d'opinion a aussi été publié dans le Ottawa Sun et le Edmonton Sun.