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B.C.'s John Horgan discusses ocean protection in meeting with federal officials

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks to media following a meeting with federal ministers in Nanaimo, B.C., on Aug. 22, 2018.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The federal government is willing to consider strengthening its Oceans Protection Plan to address B.C. government concerns – but says it is under no illusion that doing so will win the province’s support for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Premier John Horgan brought up the subject with reporters Wednesday after a closed-door presentation on various issues to the federal cabinet, which is meeting in Nanaimo, B.C. When he emerged, he said he had pressed for changes to the coastline protection plan but offered no specifics.

In response, federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he would meet with a pair of provincial cabinet ministers – George Heyman of Environment and Lana Popham of Agriculture – on Friday in Victoria.

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“If there are specific issues the province would like to see addressed, we are very open to that conversation,” Mr. Wilkinson said in an interview.

The $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, announced in 2016, is aimed at improving marine safety and preventing oil spills through various measures. The federal government has often cited its commitment to the plan to counter criticism of its support for the expansion of the pipeline between Alberta and B.C.

“If they have ideas about what we can do to give comfort to the provincial government with the Oceans Protection Plan, we’re certainly open to engaging with them," Mr. Wilkinson said.

However, he added, there would be no quid pro quo: “I don’t think we’re necessarily looking to change Premier Horgan’s mind with respect to the Trans Mountain pipeline.”

Rather, he said, the federal government has invested a great deal in the coastline plan and wants to address any concerns with respect to spills prevention and response. Still, he said he could not speculate on what Mr. Horgan was looking for.

“I kind of need to know what he means when he says he wants to see it being more robust. I have asked that question publicly of Premier Horgan and Minister Heyman and I look forward to hearing from them if they have ideas,” he said.

After Wednesday’s presentation to cabinet, Mr. Horgan said he supported elements of the plan but added, “We need to beef it up. We need to have more certainty on impacts on this west coast. It’s a three-coast plan over a 10-year period. That doesn’t give me immediate comfort, and I have raised that.”

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In a statement Wednesday, the B.C. Environment Ministry said the plan is a “welcomed step in the right direction,” but “more work” needs to be done to address the province’s concerns. One issue flagged in the statement is ensuring that Indigenous people are fully consulted.

Both Mr. Horgan and members of the federal cabinet have appeared intent on finding points of consensus. On Tuesday, federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc touted a “positive and productive” private meeting between Mr. Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during which Trans Mountain was only briefly discussed.

“Obviously our government’s position remains clear: We think it’s important to get these resources to market,” Mr. LeBlanc said, but added that the “vast majority” of the conversation was focused on areas of common interest between the province and Ottawa, such as access to skilled labour, wild salmon and the Oceans Protection Plan.

“I wouldn’t propose to change the Premier’s mind,” he said when asked about the possibility of an agreement on Trans Mountain. “We didn’t propose to change each other’s minds on anything.”

Mr. Trudeau echoed the point Wednesday.

“We have differing views on the issue of the pipeline, but it’s not a point of deep contention for us. We have so many things we do need to talk about,” he said, referring to Indigenous issues and infrastructure in particular.

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Mr. Horgan said he spoke to cabinet about infrastructure and generating enough skilled workers, among other things. He described Trans Mountain as an irritant in a relationship he sees as relatively positive.

Huge sculptures of sea-life are on display at New Orleans' aquarium and zoo, all of them made from plastic trash that washed ashore on the Pacific Coast. The Associated Press
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