Karsten Erzinger: Northern Gateway’s faulty narratives

Prevailing wisdom on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is that the project faces strong opposition from the majority of British Columbians. The project is framed in the media as a classic David vs. Goliath struggle, between “Big Oil” and environmentalists. This CBC story is a perfect example of this, breathlessly quoting opponents that bolster the accepted narrative. Further examination of this issue point out some issues in how the media has been presenting this issue.

The first problem is the often unchallenged claim by pipeline opponents that the majority of British Columbians are deadest against the pipeline. While some polls report most British Columbians do in fact oppose the pipeline (like this one from 2012), more recent polling (see here, here, and here) show that opinion is sharply divided on the issue and opposition isn’t as great as depicted. Even in the polls showing heavy opposition to the pipeline, there remain a fair percentage of people who oppose but are willing to change their minds on the issue. This trend seems to have grown, with the latest Angus Reid polling showing that 22% of British Columbians are unsure whether the federal government made the right decision in approving the pipeline (with 38% agreeing with the decision and 40% opposing). While polling can sometimes be questionable, it’s reasonable to extrapolate from them that the majority of British Columbians are not ardently opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Another issue with the media coverage is how they frame the conflict between the environmental groups and Enbridge. As I said earlier, it’s often depicted as a David vs. Goliath struggle, but the reality tells a different story. Turns out, many Canadian environmental NGO’s receive large amounts of money from the United States, a fact that is omitted when the media reports on their activities. Its baffling that this isn’t more widely reported (I’ve only seen it mentioned in the National Post myself). One doesn’t have to imagine how the media would react if a similar situation occurred on a different issue—they already did so on the issue of gun ownership, decrying the United States’ NRA for its involvement here. Well, that was small time compared to the funding and support environmental groups have been receiving from the United States. Suffice to say, environmental groups are well funded and organized, contrary to the accepted wisdom.

Bottom line: a strong narrative should not come before facts, which Canadian media outlets would do well to remember.

The Hustings