Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a $1.5-billion plan to ensure better protection of Canada's coasts from a potential oil spill, a move that comes in the weeks before Ottawa is set to make a decision on whether to green-light Kinder Morgan's controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The announcement also comes a day after Transportation Minister Marc Garneau acknowledged that oil-spill response resources on Canada's West Coast are lacking. Premier Christy Clark has warned much work has to be done before the province could support the pipeline, on which Alberta has pinned its hopes as a vehicle to get its oil sands products to overseas markets.
Mr. Trudeau sought to separate the new oceans protection plan from the Kinder Morgan decision, saying the plan is "long overdue" without elaborating how the two fit together.
"As a community, we need to protect our magnificent oceans," Mr. Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister said the protection plan will strengthen the Coast Guard, improve information sharing to prevent spills, and enhance laws to ensure owners of problem vessels are held accountable. He said his government looked at operations in Norway and Alaska in search of ideas for a world-class spills response program.
The announcement did little to satisfy the most vocal critics of new pipelines and increased tanker traffic. Vancouver's mayor, who has been among the most prominent opponents of the Kinder Morgan project, said the new plan does not change his assessment that it must be rejected, while environmental groups such as the Living Oceans Society condemned it as not enough.
Ms. Clark said on Monday the Prime Minister has allayed her concerns that the province was being "cheated" by Ottawa on spills response.
But she said the new commitment does nothing to clarify the fate of Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion, which the province has opposed, partly due to concerns about oil-spill prevention and clean-up.
If the federal government approves the project, Ms. Clark said she expects Ottawa will impose many conditions that the province will have to assess, and B.C. will also have to do its own environmental assessment.
"There is still a lot of work to do should Kinder Morgan be approved," Ms. Clark told a news conference, describing Mr. Trudeau's announcement, made in Vancouver, as what the province needs for the moment on protecting its coasts. "I have no cause for complaint with what we have seen today."
A world-class spills response is one of the five conditions Ms. Clark says must be met for her government to support pipelines and other heavy-oil projects. Over the weekend, the province released a list of 11 gaps in marine safety that needed to be filled.
They included the need for three new salvage tugs at a cost of between $25-million and $50-million each for Port Renfrew, Kitimat and Vancouver, and a new Coast Guard station in Prince Rupert that would cost more than $6-million, with estimated operational costs of $700,000 per year.
In an interview after the Prime Ministers' announcement, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the federal government has been looking at B.C.'s list of spills-response measures for the past six months.
"We believe we have addressed it and we are providing the level or exceeding the level of all 11 [B.C. requests]," he said.
Other measures in the federal Liberal plan include improved communication plans for the Coast Guard, and the creation of indigenous response teams as well as funding for research into oil spills and improved mapping of commercial waterways.
He also said he has not broken down how much money each province will receive.
Mr. Trudeau did not announce a moratorium on oil-tanker traffic off the province's northern coast, which was part of the Liberal Party's election platform last year. He said Monday's announcement was about the protection of Canada's three coasts.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the Prime Minister's announcement would help rectify a "decade of cuts and neglect" on spills response in the past decade.
Still, he said a major oil spill in Vancouver's waters would be "absolutely devastating" to the environment and economy, and, given that possibility, the path ahead was clear for the federal government.
"The pro-active way to prevent massive impact from an oil spill on B.C.'s south coast is to not approve the 600-per-cent increase in oil tanker traffic created by Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline expansion," Mr. Robertson said in a statement.
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified operating costs for a new Coast Guard station in Prince Rupert at $700-million. The correct estimate is $700,000.