Oil Tanker Moratorium Bill

Third Reading--Debate Adjourned

June 10, 2019


Moved third reading of 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.

He said: Honourable colleagues, it is my pleasure to read a speech prepared by Honourable Senator Mobina Jaffer, the sponsor of Bill C-48, at the start of third reading of this bill. She may be watching the broadcast of our proceedings at this very moment. If she is, I want to take the opportunity to offer her our warmest wishes for her speedy recovery.

Here are the words of Honourable Senator Jaffer:

Honourable senators, I would like to begin by thanking Senator Tkachuk, the Chair of the Transport and Communications Committee, for all the work he did on this bill and the courtesy that he has extended to me. Thank you senator.

I would also like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Senator Miville-Dechêne, whose passion and work on this bill is inspiring. I have no words to thank you for all you have done for me. Thank you also to each and every member of the Transport Committee for your dedication and hard work on this bill.

Honourable senators, it gives me great pride to rise today as the sponsor of Bill C-48, the oil tanker moratorium act, which is an important piece of environmental legislation meant to protect British Columbia’s north coast from the devastation of an oil spill.

To protect the north Pacific coast, Bill C-48 enshrines in law a long-standing crude and persistent oil tanker moratorium on the pristine northern coast of my home province, entrenching environmental measures that are already long in practice to mitigate the risk and scale of a potential oil spill in a very special ecosystem.

On this remote and pristine coast, the effect of even one crude or persistent oil spill would be catastrophic for fisheries, recovering populations of killer whales and the ecological treasure that is the Great Bear Rainforest. Just one spill would devastate the rich waters that sustain the Coastal First Nations that have stewarded this land for 14,000 years and who rely on the ocean to feed their families and support their growing marine economies.

Honourable senators, this chamber and the Transport and Communications Committee have heard extensively about how the moratorium will work and what it is intended to achieve. Therefore, I will concentrate my remarks on answering the underlying question, which is the following: Why does Bill C-48, the oil tanker moratorium act, seek to protect Canada’s northern Pacific coast?

Honourable senators, there is not just one reason we are legislating today to protect this region; rather, there is a combination of reasons. First, the measures in Bill C-48 complement a long-standing policy legacy that has existed on the north coast of my home province for decades. In the 1980s, our government, in partnership with the United States Coast Guard, worked together to achieve a great feat: At the request of concerned Canadians who hoped to mitigate the effects that an oil spill would have on the precious ecosystem, we developed the voluntary tanker exclusion zone.

The voluntary tanker exclusion zone is a policy that requires that all U.S. tankers travel 70 nautical miles westward of the north coast to ensure that if a tanker were to become inoperable, its contents would not devastate British Columbia’s north Pacific Coast and local economies.

Bill C-48 seeks to complement that longstanding policy legacy.

While the tanker exclusion zone applies only to American tankers that traverse Canadian waters, there is currently no existing policy that bans Canadian tankers from operating off this coast. This is a gap that Bill C-48 seeks to rectify.

Second, in answering the question why Bill C-48 protects British Columbia’s north coast, we would be remiss not to mention the pristine ecosystem and unique ecological features that merit special protection. Let us look today to the distinguished characteristics of the northern coastline of B.C. Bill C-48 offers unprecedented levels of protection for the Earth’s largest coastal rainforest known as the Great Bear Rainforest. In fact, the Great Bear region is the size of Ireland. Often called Canada’s Amazon, the Great Bear coast is truly one of the world’s greatest natural gems, combining beauty, history and culture all in one.

The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the last temperate rainforests of its kind left on the planet. This enchanting area, spiked with ancient red cedar trees and carved through by crystal-clear, salmon-rich rivers, shelters a rare white bear that is neither polar bear nor albino, but a “spirit bear,” a black bear with a vanilla coat so mystically beautiful that it is revered by the First Nations people who have lived among the bears and have protected them for millennia.

In its tides, the Great Bear Sea also shelters various endangered marine animals, such as the killer whale, a threatened species that has been reduced to a mere 205 members, and the dwindling population of Chinook salmon, among others.

We should seize this opportunity to protect this spectacular ecosystem from an oil spill by entrenching Bill C-48.

Lastly, Bill C-48 is an important step for reconciliation with Coastal First Nations’ communities that cannot afford to risk long-term sustainable jobs nor bear the risk of an oil spill in their precious ecosystem. Bill C-48 comes directly at the request of Coastal First Nations communities that seek to protect their waters and salmon rivers for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In more ways than one, these waters are their lifeblood. They create jobs and put food on the table. For the majority of Coastal First Nations who live on this coast, Bill C-48 is about preserving the economic, cultural and social well-being of the communities that are connected to and rely on healthy marine ecosystems.

It is the Coastal First Nations whose livelihood, well-being and jobs come from the waters that sustain them and have done so for thousands of years. Indeed, the north Pacific coast of Canada is more than simply a stretch of land. To many coastal communities that live along the shore, it represents their precious heritage and way of life. Let us stand with the Coastal First Nations in saying that the north coast of B.C. is no place for crude and persistent oil tankers. We should not stand against Coastal First Nations.

Honourable senators, allow me to proceed one by one to elaborate on each of these critical factors to address why we have a moratorium on crude and persistent oil tankers in this particular region.

Bill C-48 is a critical step forward to protect a precious ecosystem by entrenching measures that complement the existing voluntary tanker exclusion zone. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that this bill has been decades in the making. In 1977, after the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, a similar routing system was established for American tankers carrying crude oil across the northern coast of B.C. American crude oil tankers began to enter our waters at a rate of approximately three tankers a day.

British Columbians and many Coastal First Nations were concerned. On B.C.’s remote north Pacific coast, British Columbians knew that if a disabled tanker traversing our waters close to the coast drifted ashore, it would not be saved in time to prevent an environmental catastrophe. The oil industry and the U.S. Coast Guard heard these concerns loud and clear. Not long after its establishment, the trans-Alaska tanker route was cancelled by the U.S. Coast Guard, which cited a general lack of ocean surveys for the northern portion of the route, making it dangerous to traverse those waters.

In fact, in order to understand the danger tankers posed to the north Pacific coast, the Canadian government undertook a study to determine what would happen if a tanker became disabled on B.C.’s remote northern coast and started to drift. The drift study found that there were only two tugs, both located in Washington state, available for emergency dispatch in the event of an oil spill. The Canadian Coast Guard simulated the drift track of a disabled tanker under various scenarios. It calculated that it would take tugs 37 hours to reach Cape St. James on the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands — the Haida Gwaii — and 54.5 hours to reach Langara Point on the north end of the Charlottes.

The threat was clear: If a large oil tanker became disabled too close to the coastline, it would drift ashore long before any tug could tow it back to safety.

Honourable senators, although Canada never legally adopted a ban on tanker traffic on the north coast of British Columbia, we did, in 1988, create the voluntary tanker exclusion zone in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard. This zone ensures that U.S. tankers carrying crude and persistent oils would travel 70 nautical miles westward of the north Pacific Coast. This meant that if a tanker were to become disabled, it would not drift ashore onto lands inhabited by Coastal First Nations, wreaking havoc as it moved through our waters.

However, as all senators in this room are well aware, in 1989, something much worse than a drifting tanker took place: The Exxon Valdez strayed off course and hit a large reef, spilling 40.9 million litres of crude into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Canadians watched the environmental disaster unfold with horror, knowing that Alaska’s rich marine environment was much like B.C.’s but also with a feeling of relief, thinking it couldn’t happen in B.C. because tankers such as the Exxon Valdez were excluded from our waters.

Today, the tanker exclusion zone is respected by U.S. tankers. The zone is monitored continuously by the Marine Communications and Traffic Services, which is a branch of the Canadian Coast Guard. As well, mariners are routinely reminded of this ban in notices and in sailing directions.

Crude oil tankers go through southern waters to a terminal in Burnaby. They follow a route around the tail end of the voluntary tanker exclusion zone that is close to rescue tugs and which was left open to allow traffic to go to Washington state ports.

In short, the tanker exclusion zone is working. To date, there have been no incursions in the zone. However, it is important to point out that the zone is only intended to mitigate American tanker traffic on this coast. That is the gap which Bill C-48 would rectify.

As Canadians, we have made a conscious decision not to ship large volumes of crude oil in the region, helping to keep it relatively unspoiled. In other words, Bill C-48 follows a long-standing policy legacy that has been widely accepted by British Columbians and is still the priority of the British Columbia government.

In fact, earlier this year, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change issued a statement in full support of Bill C-48:

British Columbia’s northern coast is a unique, ecologically rich marine environment valued internationally and even more so by the communities whose histories and futures are tied to its health and protection.

Our government has been very clear we are committed to protecting our environment, the economy and our coast from the devastating impact a heavy oil spill would have. British Columbians expect nothing less. We oppose the expansion of the movement of heavy oil through our coastal waters and we have been consistent in this position.

Simply put, there is nothing arbitrary or surprising about this legislation. Bill C-48 is in line with a carefully considered approach for the north coast of B.C.

To impose a tanker ban in other regions in Canada, such as on the Atlantic Coast or the St. Lawrence Seaway, would disrupt already existing industries and jobs. There is no such issue in northern B.C. thanks to a policy legacy that we have known and respected for decades, a legacy that sends the message that the north Pacific coast is no place for an oil spill.

Bill C-48 is a necessary step to ensure that Canadian tankers, alongside American tankers, travel westward off a shore where no response capacity exists to assist a disabled tanker before it runs aground and destroys a precious ecosystem in its path.

Honourable senators, the second factor I wish to explain is the unusually pristine ecosystem protected by Bill C-48 that merits our consideration and protection.

Let us look to the beautiful north coast of British Columbia and to the world’s largest temperate rainforest, also known as the “lungs of the earth.” The locals call it that because of its high oxygen production.

I could use a little bit of oxygen right now.

On B.C.’s north coast, land and sea are intricately connected. Spirit bears depend on salmon. Coastal wolves swim across marine passages to hunt seals. Trees grow faster in years with good salmon runs. This interconnectivity is such that an oil spill in the marine environment would seriously and negatively impact wildlife, marine animals, the ecosystem and the jobs that these support.

Numerous scientific studies have highlighted the abundant fish, shellfish, marine mammal and bird species in the region. Fisheries and Oceans Canada classifies close to half of the area as “Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas” according to the criteria adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Indeed, the Great Bear Rainforest is where one of the world’s largest remaining intact coastal temperate rainforests meets one of the world’s last undammed wild salmon rivers. In fact, over 2,500 salmon migrations happen each year in these naturally undammed rivers.

The Great Bear Sea is home to many populations of salmon, particularly Chinook salmon, a population of North Pacific salmon recently classified as endangered by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Nearly half of British Columbia’s salmon population is in decline while Chinook salmon populations are in danger of being wiped out completely.

Honourable senators, salmon is key to a flourishing environment for the Great Bear Rainforest, salmon is a vital component for its healthy ecosystem. The entire ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest depends on the salmon mating and spawning season. Some animals actually delay reproduction so the burden of nursing their young is timed during the salmon-spawning season.

A wide range of plants and animals rely and benefit from consuming this delicious and nutritious salmon, including sea lions, bears and the most majestic mammal of all, the killer whale. In fact, Chinook salmon availability is one of the most important factors in predicting the survival and recovery of the Northern Pacific killer whale population which lives in the area from mid-Vancouver Island to southeastern Alaska.

With their population in decline at a mere 250 killer whales left on the north coast, the greatest threat to their survival is the lack of Chinook salmon. Chinook salmon make up 90 per cent of the diet of killer whales. For reasons not yet fully understood by scientists, the North Pacific killer whales have shown that they will rarely switch their primary food source from chinook to another species and, therefore, they will face starvation in the wake of declining Chinook salmon returns.

The unfortunate reality is that North Pacific killer whales spend much of their days searching for food, food that is becoming harder and harder to find.

On top of the diminished food source, the Pacific killer whale also suffers from high levels of pollutants plaguing their waters and compromising their immune systems. In the case of a crude and persistent oil spill, killer whales will suffer devastating consequences. Fumes from an oil spill can actually knock out a fully grown killer whale causing them to drown. Crude and persistent oil can also clog the blowholes of whales making it impossible for them to breathe properly or to communicate. Even if a killer whale were to escape the immediate effects of an oil spill, crude and persistent oil would contaminate the food supply while littering shores with thick, black residue.

The costs of an oil spill in this precious ecosystem and to the endangered and threatened species of marine mammals is just too great a risk to take.

Honourable senators, the uniqueness of this environment led the B.C. government, in partnership with First Nations, to enact the Great Bear Rainforest Act which conserves 85 per cent of the forest by prohibiting clear-cutting practices in certain areas.

Over one third of the forest is protected by the Great Bear Rainforest Act. For the remainder, low-impact resource development activities such as forestry and hydroelectric generation will be permitted to support the First Nations living in the area.

Along these lines, one can view Bill C-48 which also offers unprecedented levels of protection as complementary and consistent with the efforts to protect one of the few remaining temperate rainforests.

The Great Bear Rainforest is truly one of the few places on this earth where one may chance upon a grizzly bear hiding behind thick trees, a killer whale diving into the sea and a great albatross soaring across the skies. This is a truly unique and sensitive ecosystem, a treasure and we should seize this opportunity to protect it from a major oil spill.

Honourable senators, in October 2016 the Nathan E. Stewart tug-barge grounded at Edge Reef just off Bella Bella, spilling 109,000 litres of diesel and other petroleum products. According to experts, this was a small spill but, for the Heiltsuk First Nation, it was catastrophic. That spill devastated a rich ecosystem where Coastal First Nations have traditionally harvested marine wildlife using sustainable practices passed down from generation to generation. The oil polluted their way of life. The grounding occurred where Heiltsuk and other Coastal First Nations harvest shellfish and clams.

To demonstrate the impact this spill had on the local First Nations’ communities, it is important to note that an entire community, their livelihood and financial means come from this shellfish and seafood harvesting area. In Bella Bella, there is one grocery store, one gas station and no restaurants. Because of the spill, the only means that locals had to feed themselves were covered in oil.

Coastal First Nations are subsistence communities. They rely on the natural resources to provide basic needs through fishing and subsistence agriculture. The Coastal First Nations of the north coast survive by accessing the resources of the sea not because they want to but because they have to.

Bella Bella is a small community only accessible by boat, by plane and by ferry once a week. The remoteness of the area means you simply cannot survive without access to the resources of land and water.

Marilyn Slett, President of the Coastal First Nations and Chief Councillor of Heiltsuk First Nation, told me about the traumatic impacts the Nathan E. Stewart spill had on them and their families.

Honourable senators, when milk is $10 a gallon and each red pepper costs $8, they were truly worried about feeding their children. What was considered to be a small spill by industry standards devastated an entire community.

In cities we take for granted how easy it is to drive in your car to the nearest grocery store to pick up some fresh salmon and produce, but for the First Nations in Bella Bella the water is their grocery store and the fisherman their grocer.

The Coastal First Nations live by the mantra “If we take care of the sea, the sea will take care of us.” In these precious lands, Coastal First Nations co-exist with whales, bears, wolves and salmon, as their ancestors have done. That is why protecting their resources is a matter of survival. Without Bill C-48 safeguarding the land from the risk of oil spill, thousands of years of sustainable development of survival will be in danger.

It is the Coastal First Nations who have inhabited the area, including the Great Bear Rainforest, for 14,000 years. It is the Coastal First Nations who have occupied, owned and exercised pre-existing sovereignty over lands and waters along the North Coast, now considered as British Columbia. It is the Coastal First Nations who should have the loudest voice in this debate.

Bill C-48 comes directly from the Coastal First Nations who live off this coast and have a right to govern their territory and safeguard their waters by prohibiting tankers along this precious coast. Indeed, of the First Nations that live in the region, the majority strongly support Bill C-48. This includes the chiefs and elected leaders of the Haida Nation, of Gitga’at, Gitxaala, the Heiltsuk Nation, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, the Nuxalk, the Wuikinuxv and the hereditary leadership of the Lax Kw’alaams.

The Coastal First Nations are oceans-based people. Their culture is inextricably tied to the health of the coast and their water. Their coast is their source of income. This coast puts food on the table and creates jobs. This coast is their grocery store and these waters are their lifeblood.

Allow me to share some statistics with you. On the North Coast there are 7,620 marine-dependent jobs in Coastal First Nations’ traditional territories. Current marine-dependent economic activities generate $386.5 million a year in revenue. That number consists of commercial fishing which generates $134 million, seafood processing which earns $88 million, marine tourism which earns $104 million, and marine transportation which earns $22 million, plus many other industries that generate revenue for the Coastal First Nations.

Honourable senators, I’d like to stress as well that British Columbians aren’t the only ones who benefit from our marine economies. Canadians come in droves to fish our rivers and visit the North Coast. During steelhead season, flights in and out of Terrace airport are full, hotels, restaurants and sporting goods businesses are busy. Measured in sport-fishing days, of the nine fishery regions in British Columbia, the Skeena Region on the North Coast has the highest proportion of international visitors.

The consequences of an oil spill on this incredible coast would be long-lasting, devastating and would have the potential to wipe out an entire economy dedicated to fishing. It is not surprising that Coastal First Nations worry that an oil spill would threaten the viability of a diverse fishing industry that sustains thousands of jobs in the area, from the fishermen themselves to processing plants along the region’s shores.

With Bill C-48, we have taken an important step in reconciliation with First Nations who own title to this land and wish to protect it for their children and for generations to come.

Let me share with you a few quotes from an op-ed written by Chief Marilyn Slett, President of the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine tribes of the North Coast:

We are asking for nothing more than the continued productivity and safety of some of the richest and most diverse coastal ecosystems remaining in the world.

She wrote:

We want to ensure all future generations have a healthy environment and a sustainable economy, because it is from the ocean that our cultures, value, wealth and identity are derived.

The op-ed continued:

The passage of Bill C-48 will mean our nations can focus on building a healthy coastal economy for our people instead of fighting costly legal battles to protect them from outside interests that would see oil tanker traffic on our coast. We are the ones who will be directly impacted by a spill and we have a collective responsibility to protect the lands, waters and resources to secure a healthy environment and a sustainable economy for our children, grandchildren, and all Canadians.

Ultimately, it is the cultural inheritance of every First Nation in this territory that would pay the price of a spill most dearly.

Bill C-48 is an important step in reconciliation for coastal communities that cannot afford to risk long-term sustainable jobs nor bear the risk of an oil spill in a precious ecosystem.

Through reconciliation and with their long history of managing their coastal waters, the Coastal First Nations are on the verge of rebuilding their once-prosperous fisheries damaged by the Nathan E. Stewart grounding. The Coastal First Nations are excited about opportunities for growth and seeing their shellfish and aquaculture businesses flourish.

Who are we to tell them, after their 14,000 years of living on their ancestral territory, how they should be handling their waters and local economy.

Critics have called this community anti-development or have criticized them as against job creation. Well, as Chief Slett wrote:

. . . it is precisely because we support the re-establishment of healthy coastal economies in our traditional lands that we insist on protecting our local environment and its ecosystems. . . .

. . . the pursuit of prosperity must strike a balance with cultural preservation, economic development and environmental protection.

Honourable senators, if reconciliation is to mean anything, we have to respect the will of the B.C. First Nation coastal communities. It is not any one of these factors that explains why northern B.C. should be protected from the devastation of an oil spill, but rather a combination of all these factors.

Bill C-48 is not about stopping existing oil tanker traffic. It’s about legislating an existing policy, preventing crude and persistent oil supertankers from being introduced to the coast and minimizing risk.

As we have seen, the creation of a tanker ban on the north coast of my home province has been a long journey, beginning decades ago with an important partnership forged with the United States Coast Guard to ensure that our waters were protected by creating the Voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone. This partnership is still evident today. Our agreement is well respected.

While the Tanker Exclusion Zone was created, no formal legislative mechanism was put in place to formalize an oil tanker ban on B.C.’s north coast.

Today we are legislating an important part of history.

Honourable senators, I recognize there are many who are uncomfortable with this bill as it is currently written and are looking at possible amendments in order to improve this piece of legislation. I believe that as this bill was part of an election promise, it is up to us to ensure that the bill, in its best possible form, can make its way to the other place. I hope we can respect the intent of the bill, as it was given to us in good faith, and that we can complete a third reading vote at the earliest opportunity.

It’s time we raise our voice and work alongside a great majority of those who live on this coast to protect their traditional lands and water from the potential devastation of an oil spill, a risk they cannot afford to see materialized again.

I kindly ask that we also consider the will of those who are the legal title holders of this land and have been so for millennia. Thank you.