Nathan moves to protect the BC North Coast from oil supertankers

Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP) moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately propose legislation to ban bulk oil tanker traffic in the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound as a way to protect the West Coast’s unique and diverse ocean ecosystem, to preserve the marine resources which sustain the community and regional economies of British Columbia, and to honour the extensive First Nations rights and title in the area.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

The very important reason that New Democrats decided to bring this particular debate to the House now is to suggest to other members in this place and to Canadians at large that there is an imminent risk and threat to B.C.‘s north coast. Even the current Conservative government acknowledged the unique and fragile nature of the ecosystem when the current House leader, along with support from New Democrats and others across the country, enabled the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest. It is also true that the former environment minister, Jim Prentice, announced the Gwaii Haanas marine conservation park in the same body of water that we will be discussing today.

Even the Conservatives have acknowledged there is something unique about British Columbia’s central and north coasts, something fragile, something world renowned. At the same time, the Conservatives are proposing and encouraging the passage of 225 supertankers that are bigger than the Eiffel Tower and which contain three times as much oil as the Exxon Valdez did before it spilled, through those same waters.

We hope to illustrate today through our arguments, questions and comments that the nature of this project, the nature of running supertankers off B.C.‘s coast, particularly the north and central coasts, poses such significant cultural, economic and environmental risk that the government must remove the uncertainty to this question.

We heard as recently as earlier this week the government profess that there is already some type of ban on supertankers through these very same waters, but in fact, that is not the case. All of the comments from the government have been verbal. Nothing ever has been written down in more than 40 years of discussion.

We all know that in Ottawa this place loves paper. It loves documents. It loves to write things down after things have been said. However, in this case, to simply suggest that a verbal moratorium or some sort of voluntary exclusion zone is enough to satisfy the good people of British Columbia is misleading, dangerous and has to be ended now. The NDP is calling for clarity and certainty over this question.

We already know the numbers on the side of the oil and gas game. There are a number of people who go to work in the fishing, tourism and ecotourism industries. We are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry on B.C.‘s central and north coasts, when it comes to commercial sport fishing, recreation and tourism of all kinds. We know that all those jobs will be at risk as well as the billions of dollars that are created through those industries.

We also know on the ecological side that this is one of the most important and precious ecosystems in the world. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans knows this because she has been in the region. She knows that this has unique value not just to Canada and British Columbia, but to the entire planet. To put it at risk for very narrow, and I would say misguided, interests is wrong of any government of any political persuasion.

Two summers ago I took a boat ride through the route that is being proposed by the Enbridge gateway project. I was with three northern MLAs: Gary Coons, Robin Austin and Doug Donaldson. We all got on a 35-foot fishing boat and followed the route of these supertankers. Supertankers are massive and very difficult to steer through tight turns. We followed the route through to the ocean.

For those who have not been to B.C.‘s coast, it is stunning geography with mountains rising to the sky, deep waters and narrow channels.

Along the proposed tanker route, there are three hairpin 90° turns in succession. At one point I turned to the captain of the little boat we were on and asked if this was a point where tugs would guide the supertankers because it is so dangerous to manoeuvre through. The captain said that there were no tugs planned to guide the supertankers. I said that they would have to slow down. Clearly to make these hairpin turns one after another in imperfect conditions would be dangerous. The captain said that the supertankers could not slow down as the only way they have steerage is if they have some momentum. The supertankers have to take the turns at full and proper speed. That is the only way.

This is a part of the ocean that experiences some of the strongest waves, biggest winds and biggest storms in the world. There have been two major accidents within the last five years alone. Everyone will remember the sinking of the Queen of the North.

Industry will tell us that technology has improved. We heard this in the case of the Exxon Valdez, that it was a mistake, that the captain was drunk, that things have improved so much since those dark days.

I will remind everybody of that tragedy which occurred just north of the area we are talking about today. Some 3,500 square kilometres of ocean were polluted. Some 750 kilometres of the Alaskan coast were covered in oil. That oil is still there today. It can still be found on the shore and in the marine animals. Traces of that oil spill from so long ago still exist today. What is notable about the Exxon Valdez spill is that it ranks 32nd on the list of major oil spills in the world from tankers alone. It was not considered very big on a global scale.

The ships that are being proposed by the Enbridge project are much larger and are of a much more dangerous nature.

It is not just New Democrats who are calling for this ban to finally be formalized in law. The allies that are lining up one after another are significant and important for the current government to pay attention to.

The first group that must be mentioned, because they have been in a leadership role from day one, would be the first nations communities along the coast and along the proposed pipeline route through to Alberta. First nations one after another have stood and said, “Not on our watch. Not in our lifetime or the lifetime of our children will this be allowed to take place because so much is put at risk”. For people who rely on the oceans and rivers for their culture and their very sustenance, the question of a few petrodollars over a couple of years versus an entire way of life since time immemorial is not a question that can even be considered deeply simply because the risks far outweigh the benefits.

In British Columbia at the most recent gathering of mayors and councillors, the municipal leaders voted, without dissension, that a tanker ban must be put in place for the north coast. Not a single one of British Columbia’s mayors and councillors has raised any opposition to this idea. It passed. The coastal first nations, the first nations summit, all the environment groups in British Columbia and an increasing number of businesses in the tourism, commercial and sport fishing sectors and other sectors have said that the risks are not worth it. The benefit to British Columbia is almost nil, so why would they consider taking on this type of risk.

We have also seen in poll after poll that a minimum of 75% of British Columbians want this formalized into law. They want this done. For the Conservatives representing British Columbia, they know this too. They do not campaign on this. They do not say, “Vote for me and I am going to put more and more supertankers on the coast, 225 of them a year”. British Columbians have spoken clearly. If the Conservatives are so committed to the idea of actually representing the west, here is an opportunity to do so.

Throughout the last 50 years, about every 10 or 15 years, industry with its friends in government makes an attempt to break the notion of supertankers on this coast, of oil and gas coming. Every 10 or 15 years another committee is set up and another proposal is put forward. The committee goes out and talks to communities and asks them what they think. The communities overwhelmingly say no and the government proceeds anyway. Then unfortunately, there is a disaster somewhere in the world.

That is what happened in 1971. It happened in 1975. It happened again in 1982. It happened again in the early 1990s. It happened again in 2010 with the British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico. People at large woke up and said, “You have got to be kidding. We are going to put all of this at risk for what?”

Now, let us look at the specific project the government has been encouraging since day one, the Enbridge pipeline, 1,100 kilometres in length, out of the tar sands to the coast, to put in 225 supertankers per year, some 12,000 over the lifetime of the pipeline.

This project is proposing to put risk in front of British Columbians and those on the coast with minimal to no benefit. Time and time again, British Columbians have united on this issue. I was speaking to oil executives just this morning and put forward this notion. I said that while publicly it may look as though the Conservative government is a friend of the oil and gas industry, it is in fact the worst enemy because it creates uncertainty. The industry responded in our meeting this morning by saying, “Uncertainty is killing us, because we don’t know what is going to happen to carbon pricing. We don’t know what the government’s plans are for climate change”.

There is no national energy strategy whatsoever, which industry has been calling for. The heads of Suncor, Syncrude, Exxon Canada, Shell Canada have all said that a national energy strategy, a security strategy, is needed so that Canadians can rest assured there is some kind of plan. What is happening right now is all risk, no benefit. British Columbians, west coasters, are saying “Enough is enough. Put this into law. Make this happen”.

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