A complete tanker ban gives legal teeth to a commitment made in 1972

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to support Bill C-48, a bill to legislate a permanent tanker ban along British Columbia’s north coast. I also have amendments that I hope will still pass, which I brought before the committee.

I find the debate about this tanker ban to take place, as often happens, in sort of a miasma of amnesia. It is important for Canadians to know that we are now legislating a tanker ban that was honoured and in effect from 1972 until Stephen Harper chose to imagine it away. From 1972 until at least 2012, every federal and provincial government had accepted, as did our courts, that there was a moratorium against crude oil tankers along B.C.’s north coast, particularly in Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance, and Queen Charlotte Sound.

Just for the purpose of giving us our bearings, I want to revisit how that tanker ban came to be in effect and the implications today when we look at data about the safety of transiting B.C.’s north coast and the importance of recognizing that the tanker ban was in place from 1972 until, as I said, Stephen Harper chose to ignore it.

That tanker ban was put in place in 1972 by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. It was as a result of an immediate threat to the B.C. north coast, primarily from a proposed expansion of oil tanker traffic from Alaska to the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Now, there was a backbencher in the Liberal ranks who went on to become the minister of fisheries, the minister of environment, and so on. At that point, Dave Anderson was a backbencher from a riding that was not yet called Victoria, but that is where he was. I think it was called Esquimalt—Saanich at the time. In any case, Dave Anderson was a backbencher MLA who was also simultaneously involved with environmental groups in a lawsuit in the U.S. to try to get the newly minted National Environmental Policy Act on the U.S. side of the border to have a mandatory, thorough environmental review of the threat of Alaska oil tanker traffic bound for Juan de Fuca and what that would mean for the B.C. north coast.

David Anderson, Liberal MLA, went to Pierre Trudeau, Liberal prime minister, and put it to him that the case to protect the north coast of B.C. depended quite a lot on Canada federally exerting a policy that it would not put its tankers through there either. It was important for the legal case south of the border and it was important in principle.

I would like to see a tanker ban on any tanker carrying dilbit because, as my other hon. colleagues have already pointed out, there is no technology to clean up dilbit, but I want to hold our attention for a moment on what was happening in 1972.

I know a lot of hon. members are not from the B.C. coast, but if they look at a map, they will see why it is particularly important not to have any oil tanker traffic this area. Being originally from Cape Breton, I am often asked why there is no tanker ban on the Atlantic coast and why it only happened on the B.C. coast. It is all about the specifics of an extremely turbulent, active ocean in those places and the presence offshore of a land mass. Therefore, any spill that occurred along the Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance, and Queen Charlotte Sound would create an oil spill that not only would not float out to sea but would go back and forth, between striking the coasts of Haida Gwaii, which we then called the Queen Charlotte Islands, and backing up to hit the coast of British Columbia. It was a specific geographical threat that continues to this day. I think it is the second most active ocean current on the planet, according to Environment Canada data from the time.

David Anderson was able to convince Pierre Trudeau to put in place a tanker ban. It stayed in place from 1972 until 2012.

What is the significance of that? It means that every time people proposing oil tanker traffic along our coast point to the safety and the safety record, the safety record has something to do with the fact that we have not allowed crude oil tankers through those waters since 1972. That has something to do with the great record of not having had oil spills: it’s because we do not allow the oil tankers there. We have not since 1972.

This piece of legislation does what the Liberals promised. I heard my hon. colleague from Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek making the suggestion that they break so many promises, why not break this one too. I do not want to go in that direction. I want to thank them and approve and applaud when the Liberals keep a promise. This is an important promise. It is a legislated tanker ban that meets the goals of decades of commitments to protect those northern waters. What particularly important nation are we also protecting? It is the Haida Nation.

The member talked about how first nations were consulted. There were extensive consultations before the 1972 tanker moratorium. The Haida Nation particularly, which has the most at stake, as well as coastal nations on the other side, along the mainland of Canada, has been consistent for decades that it does not not want tankers in its territorial waters. The Haida Nation is right. The threat is far too dangerous. Crude oil along that coastline would despoil traditional fishing, not to mention tourism and other economic benefits.

This is not a tanker ban that came out of the blue. That is my main point so far. This is not something the current Prime Minister invented for an election platform. This would fulfill a commitment made in 1972 and finally give it legal teeth.

It could be better. There is no question about that. For instance, we have had spills that were devastating from much smaller vessels that would still be allowed under this ban. Everyone knows about the really disastrous spill from the Nathan E. Stewart running aground off Bella Bella. It was certainly well below the limit that would be allowed under this bill. It had a huge impact on the Heiltsuk Nation. Chief Marilyn Slett has described it as a complete disaster for that nation, that community, those waters, and those species. That was well below the 12,500 metric tons that would be permissible under this bill. I would really prefer to see a 2,000-metric-ton threshold, which was actually initially in the Transport Canada discussion paper put forward. It was widely supported to hold it to a 2,000-metric-ton threshold.

It is true that in the outer waters, those U.S. tankers could still move, but that is the point. We are protecting the historically significant internal waters of Canada that have been protected since 1972.

Having had this moratorium for so long, the waters there have been protected from crude oil. However, in the intervening time since 1972, we have had an entirely different product proposed for shipment. The different product is bitumen mixed with diluent, which cannot be cleaned up. That is the best scientific advice we have in Canada from numerous studies that have been peer reviewed. Bitumen, which is a solid, is only mixed with diluent to make it flow through a pipeline. It is a unique carrying mechanism. It is not a product. Bitumen is the product; diluent is added only to make it flow through a pipeline.

It really cannot be overstated in this place, for members who are not as deeply immersed as many of us in British Columbia are in the multitude of reasons the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is not a good idea for Canada, that bitumen mixed with diluent cannot be cleaned up. The diluent, which is a fossil fuel condensate like naphtha, butane, and benzene, is added just to make the solid material, bitumen, flow through a pipeline. At the other end, it gets loaded onto a tanker. Wherever the tanker goes, maybe to a refinery in some other country, taking Canadian jobs with it and away from refineries in Canada, the diluent then needs to be pulled out of the material, because it is not commercially valuable at that point. The product then goes back to solid bitumen, and they have to upgrade the solid bitumen and put it through a refinery.

The oceans protection plan is still not a plan. One of my constituents, the Hon. Pat Carney, who is the former minister of energy, says that it is an oceans protection wish list. We would like to see a plan. We know it is a $1.5-billion promise. We do not know how many millions are supposed to be spent on the Pacific, how many millions on the Arctic Ocean, and how many millions on B.C. oceans. We do not know.

As we look at Bill C-48, I still hope to see amendments so we can be more protective of our coastlines. I will vote for Bill C-48 and I will defend it as the continuation of a tanker ban we have had in place since 1972.

Wayne Stetski – Member for Kootenay—Columbia

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her historical perspective as well as a very timely perspective today.

There has been some talk of governments, whether it be the Alberta government or the federal government, bailing out this Texas-owned pipeline to the point of several billions of dollars. I have heard anywhere from $2 billion to $9 billion. Could the member comment on what taxpayers might think is a better use if the government was going to invest between $2 billion and $9 billion in the oil industry?

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, it is absolutely astonishing that the federal government would consider giving any money whatsoever to a Houston-based pipeline company with a very dubious record on environmental performance.

By the way, Richard Kinder, the founder, was the vice-president of Enron. A good number of the executives at Kinder Morgan are alumni of Enron, which was, of course, found historically guilty of fraud, scams, and con games galore. Richard Kinder found himself not in jail, like some of his colleagues at the end of the Enron disaster, but owning Enron Liquid Pipelines. Enron Liquid Pipelines became Kinder Morgan, and it bought Trans Mountain, another company run by a Canadian company, Trans Mountain, from the early fifties. That is another historical glitch. Kinder Morgan has appropriated the safety record of a different company shipping a different product in the 1950s.

There is no worse way to spend federal public revenue than by giving it to Kinder Morgan.

Kevin Lamoureux – Parliamentary Secretary to House Government Leader

Madam Speaker, one of the election commitments the government made in the lead-up to October was that we would bring in a moratorium, understanding and appreciating that the public desire is to see a government deal with our oceans and protect them, whether it is with the investment of literally hundreds of millions of dollars or the moratorium. This is, in fact, a commitment to fulfill a promise to Canadians.

I am wondering if my colleague could provide her thoughts on why these are important commitments.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, it is important to keep every promise.

Democracy is fragile, and many Canadians and many voters in democracies around the world have a declining level of respect for people like us, because they watch politicians make promises, and they get into office and break them. Every single broken promise is a gamble on the future of democracy. Will the voter who believed the promise that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post feel like voting again with that being a broken promise?

Every promise matters. I think keeping this promise, legislating the tanker ban for the northern B.C. coast, is one that is historic and significant.

Without any partisan spin whatsoever, I thank the government, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Transport for bringing this in. Please, go back to keeping some of the other promises.