New Brunswickers are divided on their overall support for the development of a shale gas industry, even as large numbers of people are both concerned about the environmental impact of the industry and believe it will bring long-term wealth to the province, according to a CBC/Radio-Canada poll.
INTERACTIVE: Results from the CBC/Radio-Canada poll
The development of a shale gas industry has proven to be a wedge issue in the first half of the election campaign as David Alward’s Progressive Conservatives have emerged as staunch defenders of the industry, while the Liberals, NDP and Green parties have all articulated differing levels of opposition to the industry.
The CBC/Radio-Canada poll, which was conducted by Corporate Research Associates, found 49 per cent of people completely or mostly supported the exploration and development of shale gas compared to 44 per cent who said they mostly or completely opposed the industry.
While New Brunswickers are relatively evenly split on their support or opposition to the industry, that isn’t the case when asked about their concern for the environment and the economic impact of the industry.
The poll found that 81 per cent completely or mostly agree that regulations are required but they still worry about the environmental impact of shale gas and 54 per cent say they completely or mostly agree that the exploration and production of shale gas will have negative environmental impacts that will outweigh the economic benefits.
Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward stood in front of natural gas wells in Penobsquis to start his re-election campaign. The Tories have made developing the shale gas industry a cornerstone of their campaign. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
The environmental concerns of the shale gas industry shared by many New Brunswickers are not dampening their economic hopes for the same industry.
When asked about the importance of the shale gas industry to the province’s economic future, 61 per cent said they believed it was extremely or moderately important compared to 31 per cent, who said it was not very important or not at all important.
Further, 67 per cent said they completely or mostly agreed that the shale gas industry would lead to long-term economic benefits for the province.
The poll demonstrated that opinions have hardened in the last three years on the divisive issue.
In 2011, only 30 per cent of respondents said they were “completely” sure of their position either for or against shale gas, a number that has risen to 42 per cent in the latest poll with 18 per cent completely in favour of gas and 24 per cent completely opposed.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant has backed a moratorium on shale gas development. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, said the polling numbers are unlikely to cause any of the parties to revisit their campaign strategies on shale gas.
“Even with these numbers, the parties have already set their way forward with the Tories betting their whole campaign on it, the Liberals being cautious and the NDP saying no,” Lewis said.
“So with a split, I don’t think the parties would be changing their course. Both the for and against will say they are within the margin of being in the majority [of opinion].”
Lewis said the high number of people who think shale gas will have harmful environmental consequences and the number of voters who feel it will have valuable economic benefits can be chalked up to the many questions that still hang over the industry.
“In this day and age, there is an understanding that with any of these things, there is going to be a risk,” he said.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy has promised to balance the budget by 2018. (CBC)
Corporate Research Associates surveyed 800 people on the telephone between Aug. 19 and 31. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.