Low chamber survey response a calamity

A deeper reading of the survey results gathered from Terrace businesses for Enbridge project raises interesting questions

The Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members on the subject of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. It sought their views on 10 specific statements and one key statement.

That key statement was: “I support the Northern Gateway Pipeline project.” The majority of those who responded, 51.3 percent, agreed. The survey was free of bias and ambiguity, but some aspects of it are nonetheless disturbing.

The response to the survey’s key statement is perplexing when considered alongside the responses to the other statements. These other statements fall into four groups: political (1, 3 and 7, concerned with the review process); environmental (2, 5 and 6, concerned with environmental risks); social (4, concerned with skills training), and economic (8, 9 and 10, concerned with the economic impact).

The political group of statements was supported by 59.4 percent of the respondents; the environmental and social groups of statements by 72.9 percent, and the economic group of statements by 66.9 percent. Two thirds of the respondents, 67.1 percent, agreed with the 10 statements addressing the project’s specific aspects.

When a project’s political, environmental, social, and economic parameters are supported by a two-thirds majority, one would expect strong support for the project itself.

Why then was Northern Gateway endorsed by a majority of only one vote? Are there parameters to this project which the survey failed to address? Is the identity of the proponent, Enbridge Inc., rather than the project itself the reason for the respondents’ hesitant support? Is there a problem with Enbridge Inc., or is there an unspecified problem with the project?

The chamber initially decided that the survey would need 50 percent participation for the results to be valid. At 14 percent, participation fell far short of that goal, but the chamber decided that the rate of participation satisfied statistical survey requirements and it released the results. Survey results expressed in percentages are clouded by an illusory quality when small numbers are involved.

The 51.3 percent majority in this case does not tell the community that if only one member had voted to oppose rather than to support the project, the headline would have been “Chamber opposed to Enbridge project.”

Project proponents welcome the chamber to their list of supporters. Had only one member responded no instead of yes to the key statement, the project’s opponents would have embraced the chamber.

Northern Gateway is arguably the most significant investment proposal the northwest has faced in living memory. The project’s magnitude and its economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts extend beyond our national borders, and its merits have been debated for months. That only 14 percent of the Chamber’s members participated in the survey is a calamity.

The investment decisions will not be made in Terrace, but in Calgary, New York, London, and perhaps Beijing. The political decision to give the project a green light or to kill it will be made in Ottawa in consultation with Victoria.

The critical decisions on this project will not be made by the chamber. The results of this survey will not be a decisive factor. However, the chamber of commerce is the community’s voice in matters relating to the local economy, and as such it lends legitimacy to proponents as it would have done to opponents, but for the decision of a single member.

The chamber’s role exacts a responsibility on its members which goes beyond paying membership dues, just as the responsibility of citizenship entails more than paying taxes.

It is the members’ responsibility to ensure that their contact information on the chamber’s membership list is up-to-date. And when the chamber of commerce undertakes a membership survey, members have a duty to participate. As members you owe it to your organization, to your community, and to the people who are your customers.

Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator living in Terrace, B.C.