The House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is reviewing Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.
This Act would ban tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes (about 90,000 barrels) of crude oil or persistent oils (things such as fuel oils, partly upgraded bitumen, synthetic crude oils and No. 6 bunker fuel) from stopping, loading and unloading at any ports along B.C.’s north coast.
There is no similar ban on any oil tanker traffic along any of Canada’s other coastlines. Even on the West Coast, more than 95 per cent of tanker traffic carrying crude and other persistent oils happens along the southern part of B.C.’s coast – not the north.
This proposed ban is loaded with hypocrisy.
In acting for all Canadians – as it should – the committee must ask some basic questions.
Why a ban on specific tanker traffic along a specific section of Canada’s West Coast, when there are no similar bans on any traffic along any other Canadian coastline? What differentiates the northern West Coast from other Canadian shores? For example, both the north and south sides of the entire St. Lawrence River, where tankers travel regularly to bring oil from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Nigeria? Is it because that oil means important jobs for refinery workers in Montreal, Sarnia and Quebec City?
What of the coastline of New Brunswick, along which oil tankers travel regularly to deliver oil from Saudi Arabia ($1.6-billion worth last year alone) to the Irving Oil refinery? Ah yes – much-needed jobs in New Brunswick.
How about the ruggedly beautiful coast of Newfoundland, with significant oil rigs operating offshore? Of course – they have meant the difference between poverty and prosperity for many Newfoundlanders.
Consider Vancouver – it is a bustling city, but why is it any less deserving of environmental protection than any other part of the coastline? There is wildlife, there are residents and there is tourism, all of which would be affected by a spill. Except that the city of Vancouver would not exist as it is without being a major port. As for Vancouver Island, including Victoria, all of the gas, oil and other fuels used by the people there – who elected all three of B.C.’s Green Party MLAs – get there by barge.
The northern West Coast is beautiful and pristine, but it does not have a monopoly on either of those qualities. All of Canada’s coastlines, ocean as well as inland waterways, deserve protection, which is why we must do all we can to mitigate risks and invest in oil spill containment and remediation. But with all of our other coastlines, we recognize the need for marine transportation, without which our economy, and our society, would not exist as it does.
The federal government’s commitment to spend $1.5-billion on an ocean protection plan is a big step in this direction. We have a responsibility to all of our shorelines. But we also have a responsibility to ensure Canadian economic prosperity, and to ensure fairness across the country.
The main problem with this ban is that it would prevent Canadian oil from getting to Asian markets via, for example, the deep-water ports of Kitimat or Prince Rupert – and thus directly hurt the Albertan economy and Alberta jobs. It is, in large measure, the work of an anti-oil sands lobby run amok.
If we really want to be honest, and fair, about addressing the environmental concerns around an oil spill, anywhere on Canada’s coastlines, we have two choices:
1. Ban all shipping traffic along all of Canada’s coasts. After all, the greater likelihood of a spill comes not from the now-required double or triple-hulled tankers, but from ships travelling these routes with fuel in their bunkers and their bilges.
2. Acknowledge that marine transportation is critical to our economic prosperity, across the country – but develop and implement the best ways to prevent spills, to contain them, and to clean up when they do happen – because one can never guarantee 100 per cent no risk.
The first option, a total ban on shipping, is clearly not possible. Canada’s economy would grind to a halt.
But we must not pick and choose where and when we exercise our environmental conscience – particularly when doing so favours jobs in some parts of the country but kills others. Notwithstanding incredible developments in energy technology and renewables, the world will continue to need oil for at least several decades to come. Why prevent Canada from selling what we have to the world – a concept that built this country with every other resource we are blessed with?
The irony is that Canadian oil is now being produced with less GHG emissions per barrel than some that we import, and with much more stringent labour and other environmental regulations. On that basis alone, we should be encouraging the sale of Canadian oil to the world, not discouraging it.
So let’s focus, not on a politically motivated and selective ban that will unfairly hurt some Canadians, but on how to ensure the best environmental protection on all of Canada’s equally deserving coasts while ensuring our economic prosperity.
Martha Hall Findlay is President and CEO of the Canada West Foundation.