The House of Commons has approved a motion calling for a permanent ban on oil tankers off the coast of British Columbia.
The NDP motion, introduced by B.C. MP Nathan Cullen passed Tuesday by a vote of 143-138, with the opposition parties supporting it and the Conservatives opposed.
The motion is not binding on the government, which maintains a ban is unnecessary since a long-standing, informal moratorium on oil tankers off B.C.'s coast is already in effect.
Without a legislated ban, however, opposition parties fear the Tory government will be pressured into allowing tanker traffic in order to open new Asian markets to crude from Alberta's oil sands.
"For years the people of British Columbia and concerned Canadians have been calling on the federal government to protect their coast from the risk posed by oil tankers," New Democrat Leader Jack Layton said after the vote.
"Now the government has clear direction from this House to move forward and bring in this much needed legislation."
Environmental groups also praised the passing of the motion and urged a permanent, legislated ban on crude oil tankers.
They said the most imminent threat to the B.C. coast is Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, a 1,100-kilometre pipeline to carry oil sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto supertankers bound for Asia.
"We have a world-class coast that needs strong, legal protection from the threat of oil spills – whether from Enbridge or any other project," said Josh Paterson of West Coast Environmental Law Association.
"We're going to keep working toward a legislated ban."
Enbridge insisted there is "no imminent risk and threat to B.C.'s north coast" and said the proposed project would put in place "a comprehensive, world-class marine safety program ... [that] would make the B.C. coastline a model of world class marine safety."
It also said that the project is under regulatory review with the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
A public hearing will also take place.
"It deeply concerns us that a rigorous public regulatory process established by Parliament and being conducted by two institutions created by Parliament is at risk of being ignored in a rush to come to judgment without the benefit of reviewing or testing the evidence on the matter," the company said in a statement released late Tuesday.