2018 Public Opinion Poll: Canadians’ Attitudes Towards Marine Shipping

Executive Summary

A majority of Canadians believe transporting goods by sea is safe, and most say marine shipping is growing in importance in this era of heightened trade uncertainty between Canada and the United States.

These are some of the key findings of a new study conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping. The new public opinion poll builds on a benchmark study on public attitudes about the shipping industry first conducted in March 2016.

Today, the Canadian public places a higher degree of importance on marine shipping than it did back then. Greater numbers now say the industry is “critically important” to the Canadian economy, Canada’s access to imported goods, and Canada’s ability to access export markets than did so in 2016.

As they were in 2016, however, Canadians remain concerned about the prospect of oil and fuel spills and water pollution, even as they express confidence that shipping is generally safe and well-regulated.

British Columbians tend to be most concerned about the safety of shipping petroleum in Canadian waters, while those in the Atlantic provinces and Albertans – likely reflecting the prominence of petroleum resource industries in their provinces – are most confident.

New to the poll in 2018 was a question about the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan. Results indicate that 14% of Canadians are certain they’ve heard of the plan, and for those who have not heard of it, once it is explained, most Canadians have a high level of confidence in the plan’s ability to increase marine shipping safety.

More key findings include:

  • An overwhelming majority of Canadians (94%) say marine shipping is either “very safe” (30%) or “generally safe” (64%).
  • A significantly lower number – though still a majority – say they are “very” (18%) or “somewhat” (43%) confident in the safety of shipping petroleum products (61% overall, essentially unchanged from 2016’s confident result of 60%).
  • Oil spills are still a top-of-mind concern, with more than half (54%) of Canadians mentioning the potential for such an incident as a major risk associated with the shipping industry.
  • This concern may reflect an overestimation of the number of oil spills Canada has experienced in the last decade. When given the official definition of a “major spill” (one in which 700 tonnes of petroleum or more are spilled – roughly equivalent to 1/3 of the volume of an Olympic swimming pool), most Canadians (68%) guess that there have been at least three in the last 10 years. In fact, there have been zero – a fact of which only 11% of Canadians knew.
  • Three-quarters (75%) of Canadians say they are confident in the rules and regulations governing marine shipping safety in Canada today. This is a 10-point increase from 2016.
  • However, many Canadians feel their provincial and federal governments pay too little attention to shipping safety (46% say this) or oversight and enforcement (45%).