David Anderson is a former Liberal MP and federal Cabinet Minister. He a member of the Honourary Board of West Coast Environmental Law.
As a backbench Liberal MP from British Columbia between 1968 and 1972, I was personally involved when the federal government first committed to a prohibition on bulk oil-tanker traffic on our West Coast, a move made in response to Alaska oil-tanker route proposals.
Later, as oil-spill and tanker-traffic adviser to the B.C. premier following the Exxon Valdez spill, and as a federal Cabinet Minister in Transport, Fisheries and Oceans and Environment from 1993 to 2004, I ensured that the tanker ban was maintained.
Bill C-48, an act to legislate the long-existing ban on oil-tanker traffic in northern B.C. waters, is sound public policy to protect the unique and remote north coast from the introduction of the risks posed by large-scale tanker traffic.
A recent op-ed published by representatives of the Chamber of Shipping, the Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers argues that Bill C-48 should be defeated. Their major and entirely unsubstantiated claim is that such a limitation of potential tanker traffic would spook foreign investors and would reduce or dry up international foreign investment, particularly in the oil and gas industry. This claim makes little sense and flies in the face of almost half a century of experience.
Bill C-48 would put into law a government policy established in 1971 by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, a policy decision he made in response to the pending development of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, with the consequent expected movement of Alaskan oil by coastal tanker traffic.
Mr. Trudeau was rightly concerned about the spill risks associated with a major oil-tanker route along our West Coast. These were years of a seemingly endless stream of tanker groundings, collisions and explosions around the world. The Canadian government’s objective was to keep tankers carrying Alaskan crude oil further offshore, thus allowing more response time in the event of an accident and reducing impacts on our West Coast shorelines and fisheries in case of a spill. Canada would have had little credibility in making such a request to the Americans if our own policies were not consistent with our routing request.
The result was an announcement by the Prime Minister that the federal government would not permit bulk crude shipments in our West Coast waters, other than from the port of Vancouver, where (for legal reasons) shipments would be limited to existing levels.
In addition, the Prime Minister made a companion policy decision to place a moratorium on offshore drilling in B.C. Subsequently, an agreement was reached with the U.S. administration to keep Alaskan tankers well offshore.
Eighteen years later, the Exxon Valdez grounding proved the good sense and foresight of Mr. Trudeau.
Did the oil tanker ban and the offshore drilling moratorium damage the Canadian oil and gas industry and cause foreign investors to avoid Canada? Obviously not. The Canadian petroleum industry has expanded dramatically and prospered greatly during the subsequent 48 years.
Throughout that period, foreign capital has flowed in. In fact, the recently announced LNG Canada liquefied natural gas deal, reputedly the largest single investment ever in the Canadian oil and gas sector, was decided with full knowledge of Bill C-48. The claim that Bill C-48 will send overseas investors fleeing to their homelands with their dollars clasped to their chests is simply fear-mongering and fiction.
To support their opposition to Bill C-48, the industry organizations point to a 50-per-cent decline since 2014 in investments in the oil and gas industry in drilling and exploration. There is simply no logic to this argument. The declines and fluctuations in crude oil prices since 2014, and increased U.S. supply due to improved drilling efficiency during the same period, are the real reasons for the lack of interest in the Canadian industry.
Forty-eight years of experience has shown that the B.C. tanker ban has not soured foreign-investor attitudes nor hamstrung the development of Canada’s petroleum industry. To suggest that legislating this existing ban would have such negative consequences defies both experience and logic. Bill C-48 should be passed.