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Resource Works – Policy Note: A closer look at Bill C-48, the proposed ban on shipping oil along British Columbia’s north coast
After careful consideration, we’ve found that Bill C-48 comes up short in striking a balance between environmental and economic interests.
One of the most difficult tasks facing any Canadian government in recent years (and for years to come) is striking the right balance between the vast benefits Canadians derive from their natural resource industries and protecting our environment.
While the beautiful and pristine north coast of British Columbia is undeniably a natural wonder deserving of protection, our review of the approach of Bill C-48 is that it is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. By refusing to allow for the prospect of any “oil” to be loaded or transported from a Canadian port within the exclusion zone, the Government of Canada is significantly, permanently limiting the possible routes for the export of Alberta hydrocarbons to new markets. The bill also appears to limit future liquid fuel export potential from sources such as shale and LNG – resources of vital interest to British Columbia.
At the same time, while a number of Indigenous communities on the North Coast have indicated strong support for a tanker moratorium, several others, clustered in the area north of Prince Rupert, have indicated that Bill C-48 would significantly limit their economic opportunities. This group includes the Lax Kw’alaams and the Nisga’a: the latter being one of the only First Nations with its own self-government treaty that not only grants sovereign decision-making over their own economic territory but also provides for a robust environmental assessment framework as well.
As many leaders from indigenous communities across the country have made clear, reconciliation without economic reconciliation and the right to economic self-determination is meaningless lip service.
This makes Bill C-48 a failure in terms of First Nations reconciliation.
The Trudeau government has prided itself on “evidence-based decision-making”: in other words, ensuring that government decisions are based on the best available science and data.
Allowing identical vessels with identical cargoes to pass through southern BC waters, the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the St. Lawrence River and, to date, the Arctic Ocean, the Government of Canada is making clear that there is no inherent risk associated with the transportation of “oil” by boat in Canadian waters and that this moratorium is about political expediency, not science.
Moreover, representations from the shipping community have made clear that not only do Canadian shippers maintain an impeccable safety record: new, world-class technologies could be deployed on the North Coast that would reduce the risk of spills even further.
As a result, Bill C-48 is also clearly a failure in advancing evidence-based decision-making.
Resource Works believes that Bill C-48’s approach is wrong, unnecessarily broad and fails to strike any reasonable balance for those living in northwestern British Columbia.
If the Government is not prepared to toss out the bill in its entirely, Resource Works has a number of recommendations on how it can be improved through amendments.
Since the 1970s, at least a partial ban on oil tanker traffic through the most treacherous Pacific waters approaching the BC North Coast. Starting in 1988, a voluntary ban (implemented by the shopping industry) has been in effect covering the areas of the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and the area surrounding Haida Gwaii as well as the fjords and waterways leading deeper into the province.
The great disaster scenario is, of course, another Exxon-Valdez incident: the disastrous crude oil carrier that ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska 30 years ago this month. As one of the most significant environmental disasters in the world, it looms large in the minds of all those opposed to the export of hydrocarbons from Canada’s west coast. Ironically, the Exxon-Valdez disaster leads to a whole range of measures – including the voluntary tanker ban – that have made shipping oil products safer in the decades since.
The voluntary ban has always included the Douglas Channel – the series of fjords that lead from open water up to Kitimat, BC, the proposed terminus of Northern Gateway pipeline. This narrow waterway is typical of many of the spectacular routes in on the North Coast that lead from open water to communities at their heads.
During the 2015 general election, the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader – Justin Trudeau – promised to enact a ban of “oil tankers” on the north coast of British Columbia. Bill C-48 is the realization of that election promise. After ostensibly cancelling the Northern Gateway project – the most immediate potential conflict with a tanker moratorium, the government pressed forward.
Introduced in May 2017, Bill C-48 was passed by the Commons almost exactly one year later. The bill is currently being studied by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communication. Once those hearings have concluded the bill will be returned to the Senate for third and final reading.
Thus far in the course of Senate committee hearings, many of the same individuals that spoke before the Commons committee have been heard re-iterating their stated positions. The Senate committee is slated to continue hearing witnesses into April – including a possible session in northern BC the week of April 21st.
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