The federal government has introduced legislation that would bar most oil tankers from operating along the coast of northern B.C., fulfilling an election pledge by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and formalizing a moratorium Ottawa announced last year.
The introduction of the bill on Friday was welcomed by supporters, including Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine First Nations that lobbied against Northern Gateway, a proposed pipeline project rejected by the federal government last year.
“This law puts an end to any future oil pipeline and tanker project in our territories,” CFN board chair Patrick Kelly said in a statement.
“Our coast is no place for oil pipelines and tankers. They are a threat to our culture, environment and economy,” he added.
Others disagreed, saying Canada already has legislation that protects the environment and that a tanker ban could hinder economic development in the region.
“We had really hoped the government would embark on a more comprehensive planning process and actually look at what risks they were trying to address,” said Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Vancouver-based Chamber of Shipping.
The proposed legislation – because it is not evidence-based – flies in the face of the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan, Mr. Lewis-Manning maintained.
That plan, a $1.5-billion initiative announced in November of 2016, is billed as a national strategy to create “world-leading marine-safety system” that will protect jobs and the environment.
Mr. Lewis-Manning also raised trade-related concerns, saying the proposed legislation could discourage companies from stopping at B.C. ports if, for example, they are carrying more of a certain product than the maximum set out in the legislation.
“Right now, when we are feeling a lot of pressure from the U.S. … anything that makes Canada look less competitive to outside companies or investors is something that we are very concerned about,” he said.
Tankers carrying less than 12,500 metric tonnes of oil are exempt from the proposed law, to ensure northern communities can continue to receive shipments of necessary fuels. Maximum fines range up to $5-million.
In announcing the bill Friday, the government said it proposes “flexibility” for amendments, saying that refined-petroleum products could be added or removed from the list based on science and environmental safety.
The proposed legislation has the potential to “hold back an economic engine that drives Canada, Alberta, B.C. and provides values to communities,” said Isaac Laboucan-Avirom, chief of Woodland Cree First Nation in Alberta.
Mr. Laboucan-Avirom is part of the Chief’s Council with Eagle Spirit Energy, a group that has proposed building an “energy corridor” between Alberta and B.C. that would involve refining crude oil in Alberta or B.C. and then sending it by pipeline to the B.C. coast for shipping to export markets.
In a statement, the Chief’s Council for Eagle Spirit said it was disappointed with the proposed legislation, saying there was insufficient consultation before it was announced.
There has been a voluntary tanker-exclusion zone on the coast since 1985.
The proposed legislation will prohibit oil tankers carrying crude oil from stopping, loading or unloading at ports in northern B.C. in a zone that stretches from the Canada-U.S. border in the north to the northern tip of Vancouver Island and includes Haida Gwaii.Report Typo/Error