Honourable senators, I’d like to join the debate on Bill C-48, An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia’s north coast.
It was my hope that it would not be in this circumstance, given the committee’s extensive study and the report it provided to this chamber which advised against proceeding with this divisive legislation and endorsing the incomprehensible thinking that shapes it. I’ll get to the substance of the bill in a minute, but I’d like to share my thoughts on the process that got us here.
I have been a member of the Transport and Communications Committee since entering the Senate in 2009. I was the deputy chair for some time, and I have participated in many studies. The review of Bill C-48 was thorough. It was one of the more complete and objective assessments of government legislation during my years on the committee. Not only did we receive a broad range of testimony here in Ottawa, but we took our committee to northern B.C., Edmonton and Regina to hear from a diverse array of witnesses and communities that would be impacted by this legislation. In total, we heard from 139 witnesses.
In the Senate, we task committees to conduct in-depth reviews of legislation, collect evidence, act on it and return with a recommendation to this chamber. It’s part of the parliamentary process, and the Transport Committee had fulfilled its parliamentary role as expected.
Rarely does the chamber act in the manner as it has lately, ignoring a report and dismissing the recommendation of one of its committees. Some senators said they didn’t like the tone of the report. According to their comments, and as evident from the vote on the report, some Trudeau-appointed senators of the ISG felt the report was too critical of the government. All but one voted to overrule the committee. We now find ourselves at third reading because the ISG refused to take the advice or respect the work of a Senate committee that it controls. What a telling display of independence.
Apparently, the new independent Senate, as the mainstream media likes to call it, is just great until — heaven forbid — ISG members at committee decide to vote the same way as Conservative members; then surely there must be a mistake. Independence is now folly. The parliamentary process is suddenly deficient and somehow compromised.
Although the ISG has ultimate control of the committee with a clear majority of the membership, the report not to proceed with the bill is now portrayed by the government’s apologists as nothing more than a nefarious Tory plot, even though the official opposition does not control the committee. Instead, the committee’s work is said to be too partisan. Now we are accused of being dysfunctional, even by senators who never sat at the committee table or attended a hearing. These are not arguments; these are but lame excuses from those who feign independence and meekly capitulate to the Trudeau government’s whimsical approach to serious national issues. And Bill C-48 is a serious matter.
Some senators may not have liked the tone of the report from the committee or the result of the vote, but the substance of the report was factual in stating the long list of reasons why it was advised not to proceed with the bill. It is admittedly not a flattering report, but there is nothing in the bill that serves the national interest. Indeed, it actively works against it. Yes, the report was critical of the government’s proposed legislation, and for good reason.
Canada is a trading nation. Canadian exports, particularly in natural resources, have been the lifeblood of Canada and the colonies that preceded it for hundreds of years.
Canada has by far the longest coastline in the world. No other country comes close. But we are a northern country with winter conditions that shut down the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes for many months, making our northern coastline completely inaccessible and creating drift ice in the late winter and early spring on most of the East Coast.
But we have two stretches of coastline both east and west that are completely accessible every day of the year. One is the southern and western shore of Nova Scotia running westward from the super port at the Strait of Canso to the Bay of Fundy in the province of New Brunswick, and the other is the coastline of British Columbia. Any responsible Government of Canada should be ensuring that the ice-free deepwater ports on both coasts are used to the maximum benefit of all Canadians, particularly in the export of Canadian goods. The supporters of this bill maintain that this tanker ban only formally puts in place something that already exists.
Senator Harder made this assertion as well in his remarks to the Senate. But this is simply not true. The present moratorium ensured that American vessels loading at the terminus of the Alaskan pipeline and sailing to American ports could not sail along the western Canadian coastline to deliver its product. In short, they could not use our coastline as their highway. Instead, they would have to sail at least 70 nautical miles west of the Dixon Entrance, Queen Charlotte Sound and Vancouver Island. That is a reasonable accommodation, since these American vessels are delivering American oil to American refineries that are easily accessed by the alternative route.
The Tanker Exclusion Zone never applied to tankers travelling to or from Canadian ports. It was never meant to stop Canadian port activity. Bill C-48 would stop the export of Canadian oil from a northern Canadian port directly westward to overseas refineries. Bill C-48 constitutes a domestic tanker ban of a sort which exists nowhere in the world.
The greater Prince Rupert and Port Simpson area of northern B.C. represents the finest deepwater anchorage on the West Coast of Canada, at least that is the conclusion of the federal government’s own report. In a comprehensive study, the Government of Canada assessed 26 West Coast ports to determine which had the most favourable conditions for risk management, particularly when shipping petroleum. Not only was the Prince Rupert area deemed the least risky port for this purpose, but it also had the advantage of immediate, unimpeded ocean-going access to the Pacific trade routes and the Asian market. Significantly, the riskiest and lowest-ranked port in this study was Burnaby in the Lower Mainland, where a pipeline presently exists and plans have been approved for a second pipeline.
If this government was truly sincere about managing the risks associated with the movement of persistent oil in Canadian water, why isn’t it unveiling a comprehensive program that applies to the entire country? Shouldn’t the government instead be promoting measures that aim to reduce tanker pressure in the congested waters of the Lower Mainland and instead be encouraging the growth of infrastructure in the greater Prince Rupert area?
The statistics show that the greatest tanker pressure by far is found on the East Coast of Canada. Over 100 million metric tonnes of heavy oil regularly transits the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to supply refineries in New Brunswick and Quebec. If Canada were to encourage the building of a pipeline to feed petroleum to these eastern refineries, all of that risk could be taken out of the water. No more foreign tankers from Kazakhstan and Algeria taking their heavy oil through the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or the strong tides in the Bay of Fundy. That would not only be a huge ecological win for the country but to our economic advantage as well.
Arguments about social licence preventing such a scenario are contrived. North America is honeycombed with petroleum pipelines, especially in eastern North America. The naysayers insist that Quebec would never approve a pipeline, although it has substantial pipeline infrastructure, and polls consistently show that Quebecers, like all Canadians, believe the movement of petroleum via pipeline is the safest and best way to transport oil.
The naysayers also conveniently ignore that the movement of oil by pipeline across provincial borders falls completely under federal jurisdiction, as was recently reconfirmed by the Supreme Court in regard to the TMX pipeline challenge by the socialist government in British Columbia.
With the reversal and expansion of Line 9 in Quebec almost four years ago, the Quebec use of Canadian oil in its refineries increased from 8 per cent to almost 45 per cent. Did the naysayers notice any difference to the quality of life in Quebec? Did this decision negatively impact Quebec in any measurable way? Of course not.
But the Government of Canada isn’t capable of bringing forth any serious and comprehensive plan for the country to consider. Instead, the Trudeau government wants to prevent Canadians from potentially benefiting from the maritime advantages available to our country on the West Coast. They prefer to pretend that the northern coastline of British Columbia should be treated as if it is some bizarre variety of provincial park open to all forms of shipping, including petroleum, except when you have to export it in the quantities needed to create profit, wealth, jobs and economic opportunities for Canadians.
Adding to the outrage is the fact that this bill does not actually ban tanker traffic. Foreign vessels could still traverse the passage freely in accordance with international law. The only thing that this bill will do is prohibit the loading and offloading of products and ports within the exclusion zone. In other words, the only thing Bill C-48 does is prevent the oil-producing provinces of Western Canada from getting their products to market. The Government of Canada is deliberate and thoughtless in landlocking Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s oil resources.
Why would the Government of Canada propose that strategically important and world class, ocean-going shipping ports in northern British Columbia be artificially restricted in their usage and development? Why would any Government of Canada pursue such a questionable course? With all of the economic downside and negative implications for national unity, it defies logic.
Some claim this policy was part of the Liberal election platform. It was not. It was a remark that Mr. Trudeau needlessly volunteered at a public meeting in B.C. in September 2015. To those who insist this was a promise that should be kept, I ask, what difference do promises make to this government? They promised to bring people together, but they have spent four years dividing Canadians. They promised to reform the electoral system but abandoned that when they couldn’t put in the fix to their electoral advantage.
They promised to help the middle class, and they have, but unfortunately, all the middle class beneficiaries are in the United States because of this government’s incompetent management of our petroleum industry. They also promised three years of $10 billion deficits annually and a balanced budget in year four. Instead, the four-year deficit total will be more than $75 billion. So much for Liberal promises.
Louis St. Laurent once said that election promises are like cream puff pastries; more air than substance. But St. Laurent was a prudent manager of the Canadian economy and a patriotic Canadian. He would be appalled at the reckless spending of this government, critical of its resource management, and he would be firmly opposed to the shortsighted and unwarranted provocation to national unity.
Bill C-48’s proponents claim that this particular coastline is subject to a number of concerns so unique that it requires special attention, concerns that magically do not exist on the East Coast of Canada.
Let’s then review the arguments being put forward by the proponents of this misguided piece of legislation. One claim is that the northern coastline of British Columbia is so pristine that natural economic development should be curtailed. It’s true that much of the northern shore of British Columbia is sparsely populated and largely undeveloped, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t constant commercial traffic. There is a lot of it, big ships too, like cruise vessels and ferries. Canada has no shortage of relatively pristine shoreline. There’s lots of it on the East Coast as well.
But the exaggerated claims of the uniquely pristine nature of the West Coast ignore the fact that all shorelines everywhere are subject to passing sea traffic, plus flotsam and jetsam, and the Pacific Ocean is full of discarded garbage. Over 90 per cent of the plastic in the world’s oceans come from river systems in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Africa. If people truly want a pristine coastline anywhere, we will first have to start with cleaning up the oceans.
The proponents also claim that tanker traffic will unduly threaten the West Coast fishery. I have a natural appreciation for this sentiment. I grew up in one of the oldest fishing communities on this continent. Nobody wants to threaten any viable fishery in any part of the country. That’s why we manage risk with proper vessel construction, coupled with well-trained captains, all supported by available high-quality pilotage service and modern navigation technology. Do these regulations, skills, services and technology somehow neither apply nor exist on the West Coast of Canada?
The value of the East Coast fishery is about $3 billion annually, which is eight times the $350 million value of the West Coast fishery. Yet the East Coast fishery safely manages the import and export of over 280 million metric tonnes of persistent oil annually, while the Lower Mainland of B.C. handles just over 6 million metric tonnes annually. The other 32 million metric tonnes shipped through B.C. waters is American oil down for American refineries in American vessels.
The Trudeau government would discriminate against its own industry, its own investors, its own communities, its own economy in our own backyard and in our own country.
The successful risk management of both a significant fishery and the movement of petroleum has long been established on the East Coast of Canada. The arguments that these risks are unmanageable on the West Coast simply don’t hold up under critical examination.
Of course a large oil spill will be unwelcome in northern B.C., but it would be no more welcome in Vancouver, Saint John, Montreal or Quebec City. A bad oil spill would be a challenge and a mess to deal with no matter where one occurred on our coastlines. We all understand that. The real issue is about risk management, and the conditions for risk management in northern British Columbia are as good as it gets anywhere in Canada.
We keep hearing about the Nathan E. Stewart as an example of what can happen on the north coast of B.C. The Nathan E. Stewart was an American-owned and operated articulated tug barge that went aground in 2016, lost a lot of fuel and made a mess.