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Polls point to more Alberta oil patch pain

Parties less favourable to Canada's oil industry make gains

Beleaguered western Canadian oil and gas firms face reducing prospects of any relief after the upcoming federal election, to be held no later than October 21, according to the most recent opinion polls.

The pro-business Conservative Party was verging on majority territory earlier this year. But incumbent prime minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party—blamed by many for what ails the West's oil patch, especially the lack of pipeline capacity exiting the region—are now running close to neck and neck with the Conservatives in the polls.

Another majority Liberal government is likely a stretch come October, with Trudeau's approval rating collapsing to the low thirties over the past four years. But a majority Conservative government is also unlikely, in part owing to the rising importance of environmental issues to Canadians.

The tightened margins are problematic for the Conservatives—and, hence, for the hopes of western Canada's oil industry for a more sympathetic Ottawa administration—as they likely need a majority on their own account to govern, given that the minority New Democratic Party (NDP) and Green Party share outstrip the Liberals' environmental sensibilities, while the importance of climate change to the Bloc Québécois (BQ) is also rising.

The polls

Based on a poll tracker from Canadian state broadcaster CBC, which aggregates all publicly available polling data, the Conservatives presently have 35pc of the committed vote, the Liberals 32pc, and the NDP, Green Party and BQ 14pc, 11pc and 4pc respectively. That would translate to 152 seats for the Conservatives, six more than for the Liberals, 20 seats for the NDP, 14 Quebec seats for the BQ, and five for the Greens.

Climate change and other environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to Canadians

The BQ largely kept Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's two minority governments in power from 2006 to 2011, but, based on this seat count, would not be able to do the same for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, with their combined total of 166 falling four short of majority status.

And BQ support for the Conservatives is no longer a slam-dunk, despite the separatist BQ's ideological issues with the Liberals. The Bloc has adopted an increasingly aggressive policy position on climate change on the back of Quebec suffering two 'hundred year' floods over the past three years. Experts and media alike near-universally panned the Conservative Party's recently released climate change plan.

Based on CBC's current numbers and the parties' policy positions, the Liberals in a minority government propped up by the NDP and Green Party—giving that alliance 171 seats, one above the threshold to govern—is the most plausible outcome.

Climate coalition

This scenario appears credible. In late July, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, appeared to lay the groundwork for a possible coalition government with the Liberals, and, if need be, the NDP, saying her party would work with any other party with a serious plan to combat climate change.

It is also potentially more problematic for Alberta's oil and gas industry than the current Trudeau majority government, despite his deep personal unpopularity in the province. The NDP and Green Party's policy platforms are steadfastly anti-oil sands and anti-pipeline, and also anti-fracking. And their message is resonating.

Climate change and other environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to Canadians. According to the Vancouver-based public opinion research organisation Angus Reid Institute, "environment/pollution" became the number one issue of concern for the first time ever in an early May poll, with 27pc of respondents citing it as one of their two most important issues, increasing to 33pc in its most recent poll. In contrast, a mere 10 pc of Canadians cited "energy/natural resources."

And of the voters that have deserted the Liberals since their surprise leap to majority government in winning 184 seats in the 2015 general election, twice as many have moved to the NDP and Greens than to the Conservatives, according to Angus Reid Institute data.

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