Albertans want premier-designate Rachel Notley to work for further expansion of the oil sands, including construction of controversial pipelines needed to open up new markets, a post-election poll says.
The New Democratic Party won a stunning election victory on May 5 with promises that signalled major changes for the province's oil and gas industry.
In a survey of 1,000 Albertans completed after the vote, a large majority indicated they want the NDP government to support the province's oil industry – including the oil sands – while a slightly smaller majority also want it to work with other provinces to put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs).
The online survey to be released Tuesday was conducted by Ottawa-based Abacus Data, with a random sample of participants selected to reflect the province's voting-age demographics. Abacus said random surveys of similar size are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The responses provide "still more evidence that the shift that elected the NDP was not about people looking for radical change," Abacus principals Bruce Anderson and David Coletto said in their analysis of the results.
"Instead, mainstream voters across the province are looking for continued support for oil and gas development, including expanded market access, while at the same time hoping that Alberta can make more progress in terms of energy efficiency, renewable energy and playing a collaborative role with other provinces on the question of carbon pricing."
Mr. Anderson writes an online column for The Globe and Mail and has research and communications clients in many sectors, including pipelines and oil and gas. The poll was paid for by Abacus.
In the poll, nearly 90 per cent of respondents say they will evaluate Ms. Notley's performance in terms of how well she deals with the oil industry, while 72 per cent say her effort on climate change will be important.
During the election campaign, Ms. Notley promised to launch a commission to determine whether oil and gas royalty rates should be raised. She said she would not be lobbying other jurisdictions to approve pipelines and even raised concerns about the Northern Gateway, which would move bitumen from British Columbia for export from a terminal in Kitimat.
But poll respondents want a more aggressive stand by their provincial government on pipelines, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Coletto said. Even a strong majority of NDP voters support the pipelines, they noted. Only 23 per cent want Ms. Notley to oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline, while 53 per cent said she should back away from that stand.
The NDP's environmental and union allies in the province have opposed pipeline proposals, though for different reasons. Unions want the resource to be processed in Alberta, while the environmentalists want to choke off oil sands development by limiting market access.
In Abacus's survey, 85 per cent want the NDP government to support the Energy East pipeline, which would carry crude to eastern refineries and export terminals; 79 per cent want Ms. Notley to support pipelines through B.C., and 76 per cent back the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
(Some 90 per cent support an energy-efficiency strategy and 89 per cent want a renewable-energy plan.) Environmentalists welcomed Ms. Notley's victory as a new chapter in the province's dealings with the oil and gas industry, particularly the oil sands sector, where rapid growth has raised concerns about increasing GHG emissions and local environmental impacts.
The premier-designate has said she will work with the industry as the new government considers the review of royalties and other regulatory initiatives.
Melissa Blake, mayor of the regional municipality that includes Fort McMurray, said the new government cannot afford to slam the brakes on development. Her region is seeing the impact of low oil prices as companies cut expenditures and delay some planned projects.
"We have the Alberta NDP, which will be different from any other NDP because I think – and I believe I'm seeing signs of it – in Alberta we need to be respectful of where we are and where we come from and where are we going," Ms. Blake said in an interview at her office.
"And it's impossible to think about that without contemplating the industry that is fundamental to the health of my community."