I had the pleasure of joining in the 3rd Reading Debate of Bill C-48, a Bill that is heavily based on my Private Members Bill C-606 I introduced in 2011. I’m grateful to see meaningful steps being taken to protect the unique marine eco-system in British Columbia’s Northern Coast.
For my full Debate Speech, please visit: goo.gl/Cygius
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak today about the importance of BC’s North Coast and why we are seeking to protect it with Bill C-48. The zone subject to the tanker moratorium goes from the south border of Alaska to the northern tip of Vancouver Island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago. I will begin by reading from a document written eight years ago.
“This bill legislates a crude oil tanker ban in the dangerous in-land waters around Haida Gwaii known as Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound. It will protect our oceans and communities from the risk of a major oil spill and promote a sustainable economy, one that supports BC’s growing fisheries and tourism sectors. This bill responds to the clear voices of British Columbians, the majority of whom supported a permanent tanker ban on BC’s north coast. First Nations, BC municipalities, and thousands of businesses, whose growth and sustainability depend on a healthy ocean and coastal ecosystem, are united in their call for a permanent ban. To be clear, this bill does not apply to natural gas products and will not affect existing deliveries of condensate into Kitimat, B.C. It will not prevent the continued transport of diesel and other oil products to local B.C. communities or in any way affect current or future shipments of oil to Asia and the United States through the Port of Vancouver. The bill does not limit growth in exports of Canadian crude to expanding international markets. And finally, it allocates no new ministerial ability to close other shipping areas in Canada, as these powers already exist under the Canada Shipping Act.
The bill does acknowledge that Canadians want communities and wildlife protected and they want prosperity. This can be achieved by making smart choices about where and how development takes place.
We have witnessed the environmental, economic and social devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez and BP catastrophes in the Gulf of Mexico. One major spill along B.C.’s shorelines would threaten fragile ecosystems, endanger wildlife, harm lives and communities, and jeopardize many of our tens of thousands of coastal jobs. It is simply not worth the risk.”
I am reading from a letter that was written to my colleagues as I tabled Bill-C606 back in 2010. I am today so grateful and so appreciative to our Minister of Transport for having tabled this bill C-48 to do exactly what I was calling for in Bill-C606. I did have a chance to visit 15 communities up and down our coast, hosting events to hear from our members, including the chamber of commerce, indigenous peoples, citizens, and there was an overwhelming consensus that the Pacific North Coast was a very import, internationally significant area, that we must protect and defend from the risk of a major oil spill. I did speak with individuals who had showed me pictures of themselves wearing gumboots as they cleaned up oil from sea life and shorelines up in Prince William Sound in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez spill of 10.8 million US gallons of oil back in 1989. Some of those ecosystems have never recovered from that spill and affect the economy and the ecology of those areas today. So I certainly understand the concern the people of the north coast had.
I will explain why that area is so unique and risky and why in my letter I talk about this risk that British Columbians did not believe was worth it in terms of the benefits to our province. I want to give credit to the environmental advocacy that raised awareness about the risk of oil tanker traffic and spills on our north coast related to a pipeline that was being proposed to that area and which has since been determined not permissible by our government. I want to also thank our prime minister for recognizing that our Pacific North Coast was not the right route for pipelines and for oil tankers. I was privileged to be able to successfully insure that the ban on oil tanker traffic on the Pacific North Coast was included in two liberal platforms, one in 2011 and one in 2015. And so, what I would like to say is: promise made, promise kept.
Marine ecosystems that span the Northern coast of British Columbia are unique. The coast line itself with its rugged cliffs provides an abundant environment for its ecologically rich and diverse animal populations. It is dotted with thousands of islands and etched with deep fjords. The coastal rain forests are places of stunning biological prosperity and diversity and its an environment that deserves protection. Not only is north coast geographically complex, it also supports a wide range of distinct marine ecosystems. These ecosystems provide spawning and schooling for fish and is important for a variety of seabirds, marine mammals, and other marine fauna like humpback and killer whales and that’s nothing to say about the region’s rich flora.
I had a chance to travel in this area as the Environment Minister for the province of British Columbia. I spent a week on a BC Park’s boat touring the isolated inlet lots and shorelines as we sought to discuss with local indigenous peoples the possibility of creating the Great Bear Rainforest, creating a provincial park and reserve in that area. I had a chance to see just how little human impact there has been on that part of our coast and how in a way virgin ecosystem that really is and that is expressed in the rich variety of the ecosystem that I’ve spoken about. It’s not just the marine areas that are so important to protect, but it is also the area on land that a pipeline was proposing to traverse and it would have crossed hundreds of fish and salmon bearing streams and it would have crossed wilderness, mountain, and valley area, with virgin forests and ecosystems that’s almost impossible to even hike through. It is so remote and so uncivilized and I say that in the technical sense in that there are so few people living there in such vast areas. It means it’s very important for our grizzly bears and for other wildlife to be able to live without the impacts of human civilization that cause challenges to other parts of our province and in our country. In many northern areas, salmon still run in the rivers, hundreds of year-old trees loom over vast landscapes and predators and prey remain that keep the delicate balance necessary for these ecosystems to thrive.
Our government is committed to ensuring this coast remains a vibrant ecosystem for generations to come. And I know that the ecotourism in this area is brewing year by year as people from around the world recognize how internationally unique the area is. The government recognizes that indigenous groups of inhabited the coast for millennia and continue to rely on this bountiful ecosystem as foundations for their cultures and economies. As I traveled around Haida Gwaii and Gwaii Hanna’s National Park a few years ago in a sailboat, I spoke to many indigenous peoples from Haida Gwaii and they were completely and utterly determined that their precious area would not be subject to the risk of a major oil spill by oil tanker traffic. This moratorium is very important to the members of the Haida Gwaii community.
This bill is a significant step that is being taken by our government to enhance environmental protection for this pristine and important coastline. The minister also traveled from coast to coast to coast to hear from people about this project. From Haida Gwaii to Iqaluit to St. John’s, he wanted to hear their perspectives on the oil tanker moratorium and improving marine safety. Our government has met with stakeholders, nongovernment organizations and other levels of government and indigenous groups to listen and gather input. I have to recognize that the Minister of Transport has done a full and deep job of consulting with people across the country as the proponent of Bill C606 in 2010, which was up for debate in March 2011. I was not able to do quite that thorough of a job of consulting, but certainly there was a great majority of people that I spoke with that felt this was an important initiative. The minister heard a diversity of views as I said and the importance of these environment protections was made abundantly clear.
Coastal communities and industries, everywhere in Canada, understand the importance of healthy ecosystems to protect the way of life and livelihoods of those areas. In fact, there is a wide range of economic activity that feeds and sustains the Pacific North Coast region’s economic lifestyle. For over a hundred years, we’ve had logging, mining, fisheries, and processing facilities. Those activities have been important and have supported many communities along the coast. I want to acknowledge the province of British Columbia has really worked hard to consult with stakeholders from the environment, the communities, indigenous communities, and from industry to make sure that its land use planning process reflects where there should be more intensive use of the land and waters and where there should be more protections of the land and waters and that balance has been found in our province. As always, it can be improved, but there has been a great deal of emphasis on the proper management of the lands and waters at British Columbia since the 1990s, including the government that I was part of in the early 2000s. It is not something that this government takes lightly to ensure that an activity such as a pipeline and oil tanker traffic would not be permitted there with the jobs that would have created which were not an enormous number I must point out. The building of the pipeline would have created some jobs for sure, but once it’s build, the number of jobs ongoing were far far less. The moratorium will protect the livelihoods of communities on the British Columbia’s north coast by providing a heightened level of environmental protection while continuing to allow for community and industry resupply by small tanker, an important part of the bill that I proposed as well in C606.
We know that these communities and industry rely on marine shipments of critical petroleum products to sustain their livelihoods, which is why our government will continue to allow shipments of crude or persistent oil product below a certain level, which is 12,500 metric tons. But what the moratorium does do, is that it will protect the northern coastline in that whole area and its delicate ecosystems, including Haida Gwaii, from accidents that could upset the fragile region via a major oil spill. We know that the vast majority of citizens in that area don’t believe that the risk of that kind of a major spill that we have seen before on our West Coast is worth it. We also understand that should something like that happen, our coast would never be the same. In the north coast, there are far fewer services to help prevent a spill, to act quickly if there was a major oil tanker in difficulty and to prevent the damage.
This tanker moratorium doesn’t tell the whole story of our protection of the coast and the precautionary approach that we’re building in to help safeguard the marine environment in this region. I want to mention the Ocean Protection Plan which adds another set of protections. The Ocean protection plan is a 1.5-billion-dollar initiative that was widely consulted. I know that were many members of the Pacific Caucus, the BC, and members of Parliament who were asked to provide input into what should be in this Oceans Protection Plan. What it does is improve our incident prevention and response regime and addresses environmental concerns in the event of a marine accident. The Ocean Protection Plan will lift the liability cap for defraying the cost of cleanup should there be a spill, to unlimited liability. I’m referring now to the smaller ships that my colleague from Port Moody was reading into the record, some concerns about the smaller ships that are underneath the cap but there will be unlimited liability. The government is implementing a levy on oil shipments to fund compensation and to speed up compensation so communities aren’t stuck holding the bill for cleanup of smaller spills.
In this bill, we recognize that when the delicate balance of this coastline becomes threatened, it upsets relationships between the environment and its inhabitants that are not just about today’s coastal communities, it’s about inhabitants that span thousands of years. The Musqueam first nation for example, which is in the south coast has record of habitation in their traditional areas for 4,000 years. We know that there are deep historical and cultural ties on the Pacific North Coast that support cultural practices and social structures and that also is what makes this area worth protecting. Clearly Mr. Speaker, the oil tanker moratorium is just one of many initiatives in our comprehensive plan to protect the marine environment, to begin restoring some of the species that have been impacted from human activities over the years, from changes to our oceans like acidification and warming from climate change, to the warming of streams that are necessary for our salmon cycle. There is so much work to be done, but this is a key part of it. I hope that we will have the full support of all members present for the passage of this bill to take this important step in protecting one of the world’s most diverse and rich regions of anywhere on the planet.