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Enbridge, Ipsos-Reid poll, and disinformation tactics

Enbridge, Ipsos-Reid poll, and disinformation tactics
Opinion 250
By Peter Ewart
Friday, January 06, 2012

One of the aims of disinformation campaigns is to shake the resolve of people. And we are seeing ample evidence of this in the campaign to sell the Enbridge pipeline which, if constructed, will stretch across the lands and waterways of Northern BC and result in major oil tanker traffic in the ocean waters off BC’s Pacific coast.

Recently, an Ipsos-Reid poll, released exclusively to the Postmedia News chain, is alleging that, by a whopping 48 to 32 percentage, most people across the province are now in favour of the controversial pipeline. This poll, of course, was commissioned and paid for by the Enbridge Corporation. The results are almost the exact opposite of another poll conducted by the Mustel polling group in 2010 and commissioned by pipeline opponent group “Forest Ethics”. That poll showed a 51 to 34 percent margin against the pipeline. The gap between the two polls is stunning.

Nonetheless, despite the huge disparity in poll results, the Postmedia News chain was quick to punch out headlines such as: “New poll points to pipeline support”, as well as articles claiming that the poll could be a “game changer” for project opponents. For its part, Enbridge has issued a statement that the “new poll” will set a “’proper context’ for the launch of National Energy Board hearings into Northern Gateway that begin this month in northern B.C.”

But the question needs to be asked: just what is Enbridge’s “proper context”? A key part of Enbridge’s efforts to establish this “proper context” is to create the impression that the people of this region and across the province actually support the controversial pipeline. And even more than that, they “want” it to be built.

This is an old tactic that has been used many times before. For example, the Campbell government used it to justify the sale of the publicly-owned BC Rail back in the early 2000s. At that time, Northerners were strongly opposed to the sale of the railway. Indeed, the opposition in this region was so strong that the Campbell Liberals actually lost the 1996 election because of it. In the wake of that election, Campbell claimed that he had learned a “lesson” and that the BC Liberals would not sell off the railway. In 2001, the Campbell Liberals were elected to government.

Now it would not have gone over well for Premier Campbell to simply declare that he was breaking his “solemn promise” to sell off the publicly-owned railway. Far better if the idea came from “others”, especially people from the North where the opposition was staunchest. And so it was that a handful of Liberal-friendly mayors from the North issued statements complaining about the rail service and that “other options” needed to be considered. This was closely followed by announcements from Premier Campbell that BC Rail was to be “leased” (for a potential 990 years as it later turned out), and that the provincial government was doing this simply in response to the “wishes” and “concerns” of these Northern mayors.

An interesting sidebar to all this is that Colin Kinsley, one of the “Northern mayors” who gave the call for the provincial government to take action about the railway, is now the Chair of the Northern Gateway Alliance, an Enbridge-funded group, which is actively promoting the pipeline project and claiming “community support” for it.

A similar kind of “BC Rail sale” tactic was attempted at the end of last year against First Nations groups in BC, almost all of whom have come out strongly opposed to the Enbridge pipeline. On December 3rd, the Vancouver Sun, which is part of the Postmedia News chain, printed a big front page article with the headlines stating that the Gitxsan First Nation “supported” the Enbridge pipeline and that, according to an Enbridge chief executive, “Critics have seriously underestimated his company’s support among first nations.” In a sub-heading, the article claims that the Gitxsan people had signed an “Enbridge support agreement.”

All of this was done the day after a coalition of 130 BC First Nations groups announced at a press conference in Vancouver that they had formed “an unbroken wall” to block construction of the pipeline. This news, of course, did not get front page treatment from the Vancouver Sun but rather was buried in the middle pages.

But as the days went on, the so-called “Gitxsan agreement” blew up in Enbridge’s face, with many Gitxsan leaders and members charging that the agreement signed by negotiator Elmer Derrick did not represent the wishes of the majority by a long shot. Subsequently, members of the Gitxsan First Nation blockaded Derrick’s office. To their credit, other First Nations announced that Enbridge’s tactic had only strengthened their resolve to oppose the pipeline.

Various online commentators and bloggers are raising questions about the content of the Ipsos-Reid survey itself, that the questionnaire omits words like “oil sands”, that it does not mention that the pipeline will be crossing First Nations claimed land, which may distort the results. And that, furthermore, 55% of respondents were either “not very” or “not at all” even aware of the existence of the pipeline project thus seeming to contradict big media claims that the “majority” of British Columbians are in favour of it. Others are reporting that Enbridge has conducted additional surveys which haven’t been made public. If that is the case, did Enbridge “cherry pick” this latest one and keep the less favourable ones hidden? We don’t know.

However, regardless of what the polls may or may not claim, one thing we do know - a large number of people in the North, whether First Nations or non-First Nations, are adamantly opposed to this pipeline project and do not want it to proceed. In the days and months ahead, it is likely that more disinformation about the pipeline is coming our way courtesy of big oil, big media, and the federal and provincial governments.

The people of our region need to be vigilant.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca


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