Fresh off a trip along the B.C. coast that had him meet with several first nations – and having watched his rival steal all the headlines in the energy debate – New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said it's time to stop focusing on pipeline politics.
Turns out many British Columbians agree.
An Angus Reid Public Opinion poll released exclusively to The Globe and Mail says despite recent discussion about Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway project, only 1 per cent of respondents think energy is the most important issue facing the province.
The online survey of 804 adults found the recent pipeline discussion had no immediate effect on the political landscape. Of those polled, 25 per cent said the economy was the most critical issue, while 19 per cent said health care. Twelve per cent chose leadership.
Energy – which scored 1 per cent in an Angus Reid poll in early July – remained at that figure, tied with aboriginal affairs and daycare. "Other" scored 4 per cent.
"Because of the ill-defined economic benefits, people don't see [Northern Gateway] as an issue yet," said Mario Canseco, the polling firm's vice-president.
The Northern Gateway project would see two pipelines constructed between Alberta and Kitimat, B.C. – one of the communities Mr. Dix visited on his recent tour.
Mr. Dix's party has long opposed the project, citing the potential effects of a spill.
Liberal Premier Christy Clark had refused to take a position until the National Energy Board review was complete. Last month, however, the Liberals said five requirements – including marine oil spill response systems, and protocols for land oil-spill prevention – would have to be met before any pipeline proposal could proceed.
The key condition, however, was improved financial benefits for B.C. Ms. Clark's government has noted the province would receive only 8 per cent, or $6.7-billion, of $81-billion of expected government revenues over 30 years. Ms. Clark says British Columbians would face most of the risk in the event of a spill without a satisfactory return.
She made headlines last week when she walked out of meetings at the Council of the Federation in Halifax and said she could not sign onto a national energy strategy until financial issues over the Northern Gateway pipeline were addressed.
The Angus Reid poll found Ms. Clark's stand did not help her party with prospective voters. The Liberals actually lost one point since early July, landing at 22 per cent. The NDP gained four points, rising to 49 per cent. The BC Conservatives dropped from 22 per cent to 19 per cent. Mr. Dix remained the top choice for premier, with an approval rating of 48 per cent. Ms. Clark had an approval rating of 29 per cent.
The poll was conducted this week and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 per cent.
Mr. Dix met with reporters at his party's Vancouver office on Thursday to discuss his trip to communities such as Hartley Bay and Bella Bella. "I think the ones who have the momentum on this issue – not governments, not politicians – the people have momentum. I think in my own modest way I'm going to try to be with them," he said.
Environment Minister Terry Lake, meanwhile, said that B.C. has formally submitted its intention to cross-examine Northern Gateway officials at the National Energy Board hearings.
He said the province intends to ask tough questions about the project.