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Crude oil tanks at Kinder Morgan's terminal are seen in Sherwood Park, near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada November 13, 2016.CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

Kinder Morgan's planned Trans Mountain pipeline – three years away from carrying oil – pumped out a public relations win for the federal Liberals, as newly released polls show the government got positive reviews for approving the project, even as Ottawa scrambles to take some of the politics out of energy policy.

A survey from Innovative Research Group Inc., provided exclusively to The Globe and Mail, found the Liberals burnished their brand with the public by approving two new oil pipelines in western Canada, including Kinder Morgan's 1,150-kilometre link between Alberta's oil fields and Vancouver's harbour, while blocking construction of a third, the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won points for acting decisively and demonstrating that the Liberals judged each pipeline project on its own merits, said Greg Lyle, B.C.-based president of Innovative Research.

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The big-picture conclusion from the polls is that more Canadians supported moving forward with two projects and killing one than any alternative approach.

Drilling deeper, the survey showed 17 per cent of Liberals and 4 per cent of Conservatives hold a more favourable view of the government following the announcement. Unsurprisingly, NDP and Green voters took a more negative view, with approximately 16 per cent of those surveyed in each party thinking less of the Liberals following the announcement. (For all the noise around pipelines, 40 per cent of those surveyed were ambivalent on the issue.)

Innovation Research surveyed 1,200 Canadians for their views on pipelines in the wake of the Nov. 29 decision, with a focus on respondents in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. While the firm has done work for pipelines and governments in the past, this polling was done independently, as part of a larger study on Canadian attitudes toward infrastructure projects.

For Mr. Trudeau, being closely identified with pipeline projects is a double-edged sword. While he no doubt welcomes praise for decisive leadership, any politician would be leery of attaching their personal credibility to projects that can poison entire river systems if they break.

And the Prime Minister now owns this decision. Mr. Lyle said: "The pipeline decision is seen as a character issue; it is not playing out as an economic issue with Canadians."

So while the Liberals may take satisfaction from the polls, they come as the government takes prudent steps to distance politicians from increasingly controversial pipeline approvals by attempting to rebuild the credibility of the National Energy Board (NEB). That's the government agency meant to weigh the pros and cons of energy projects and play a key role in determining Canada's energy strategy. The NEB signed off on the Kinder Morgan pipeline last May.

On Monday, the NEB appointed three new, bilingual members to review TransCanada's planned Energy East pipeline, which runs from Alberta through Quebec to New Brunswick. This project has critics lined up around the block, and the last NEB panel on the Energy East project had to withdraw, tails between legs, when it was revealed that members held a closed-door session with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, then a consultant for TransCanada. Canada's energy-heavy economy needs an experienced, credible agency such as the NEB guiding policy and approval of pipelines. These are massive infrastructure commitments – costs are often upward of $5-billion – that will shape the country's competitive landscape along with its environment.

Pipelines cannot be left as political footballs, to be kicked about by special interest groups and opposition politicians.

Mr. Lyle's firm has done polling on the Energy East pipeline in the past, and found the project could play into the hands of Quebec separatists, "who will argue we are sacrificing the Quebec environment to enrich Alberta."

Restoring the reputation of the NEB should be a priority for the federal Liberals. Decisions on energy infrastructure need to be made after informed debate, not by leaders guided by polling numbers.

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