The way projects are presented and pitched to the public may be deeply flawed. Mario Canseco, vice-president of public affairs for Insights West, explained at the CanaData West conference in Vancouver that how proponents inform people about projects like the Site C Dam and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion doesn’t always match up with survey data.
Insights West recently conducted a survey of B.C. residents to gauge their thoughts on projects.
"We wanted look at how B.C. residents felt about specific construction projects," said Canseco.
"We had done some polling on this back in June, but because the new government now is in, we wanted to see if the needle moved."
The survey found there is still a great deal of division on major projects like Site C or Trans Mountain, but a majority of respondents agreed that engineers are the most trusted source of information. Engineers were the source of choice for 44 per cent of respondents, followed by journalists with 15 per cent.
"Construction views tend to be really varied depending on where you live, your age, your gender but when you look at the effect that engineers have in making sure people are well informed about some of these projects then it definitely moves the needle," he stated.
The least trusted were elected politicians. Only four per cent of respondents trusted them the most.
"The main issue is don’t rely on the politicians consistently to sell the message," Canseco said.
"We have seen how they are ranked very low, and we see that there is a credibility problem, regardless of the party or government you represent."
He noted many major projects in B.C. are being handled by deputy ministers, crown corporations or politicians really adamant on signing documents or cutting ribbons.
Not only does the survey suggest projects have the wrong messenger, but the message is wrong as well.
"When we ask people what they want to hear about on these projects, the first thing is environmental stewardship," said Canseco.
"It is something that is done on every construction project. It is not like we are in a place where no laws apply or regulations are in place but we haven’t spent much time talking about these issues. I think that is one of the major problems that we see in the survey."
The respondents ranked mitigating environmental impacts during construction, ensuring communities get input before construction and explaining long-term economic benefits as important issues they want to hear about when assessing a project.
The least concerning issues were generating revenue for the province or reviewing the track record of proponents or firms.
When asked what would make them more likely to support a B.C. construction project, 90 per cent said greater discussion about the actual benefits and 88 per cent said more background on environmental impacts. Eighty-six per cent wanted more transparency throughout the entire process.
"If you don’t talk about environmental issues, someone else will do it for you," said Canseco. "There is environmental stewardship in every project, but when you let activists decide if it’s environmentally friendly or not you are at a disadvantage."
Another issue has to do with information consumption. The majority of respondents noted they get their news from TV or Internet/digital media. But Canseco explained this represents a massive split. The vast majority of those aged 55 and older chose TV while the vast majority of those 35 and under chose digital media. What specific source they choose matters as well.
"People are looking for sources of information that fit what they feel," said Canseco.
"It’s almost like we are going back to the early stages of the 20th century where you bought your Republican or Democrat newspaper. We are moving into that now with the Internet and digital media."