Spill response team members try to clean up the diesel fuel that leaked into waters off of Bella Bella in October. Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen and North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said equipment

Cullen, Rice slam spill response

Representatives say equipment, training and proper response is sorely lacking in B.C.’s central coast

Equipment, training and proper response is sorely lacking in B.C.’s central coast and the federal government hasn’t done enough to ensure its safety.

That’s the message from Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen concerning the grounding of the Nathan E. Stewart tug and barge, which leaked thousands of litres of diesel fuel into the water when it sank off the coast of Bella Bella.

“Equipment and training and a real safety plan for the entire coastal region has been promised for years. [B.C. Premier] Christy Clark, [Former Prime Minister] Stephen Harper and [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau all talk about what a world class response we have, yet when you see an incident like this, you realize those words are empty,” said Cullen.

After response vessels came from Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation’s (WCMRC) base in Shearwater, and limited Heiltsuk response action from Bella Bella, it was another 24 hours before Prince Rupert’s response team arrived from the North Coast with additional resources.

Trudeau has promised the reopening of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver, but it’s still too far away for Cullen who has derived the timing of the immediate response action.

“Mr. Trudeau was in Vancouver [in October] and said ‘We opened the Coast Guard base back up in Vancouver and everything’s better’, not realizing and not having a map at hand to know that’s hundreds and hundreds of kilometres away,” said the MP.

WCMRC south coast area supervisor Trevor Davis told Black Press that while there are limited resources along the central coast, training is being prepared for Heiltsuk members who have been working on the spill. Whether it’s enough to properly address a similar incident in the future is still up in the air. Davis added that there are currently trained responders in Shearwater, but not in    Bella Bella.

“That’s the debate for the whole B.C. coast: can you have enough equipment? We are growing, the industry is changing and we can certainly do with more equipment and I would support that,” he said.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould visited the site on Oct. 30 and spoke with Heiltsuk leaders and listened to the community’s concerns about what is needed in terms of training, equipment and response quality in the area.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice also took part in the spill response, and was over in Bella Bella for approximately a week. The MLA said that more needs to be done to look after the non-urban parts of the west coast, just as much as the urban parts.

“There was, and is no cache of boom and oil spill cleanup equipment in the central coast and clearly this sinking and subsequent spill demonstrates it is greatly needed. It is not just the populated areas of our province that need response capacity. Two weeks prior to this incident the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in Bella Bella at the invite of the Premier, recognizing the significance and importance of the Great Bear Rainforest. If this part of British Columbia is so important to Christy Clark why does she leave it so vulnerable to risks like oil spills?” Rice said.

“Once the spill occurs, there is little that can be done. I witnessed this first-hand. Diesel may evaporate but it doesn’t do so quickly. I arrived seven days after the spill and the stench of fumes was so thick in the air. The sheen was everywhere and going right past the booms and they were essentially useless. The skimmers were hardly picking up any product and considering the amount floating around the water today three weeks after the spill, it is blatantly obvious there is nothing world-class about oil spill response in B.C.,” she continued, adding that tug-owner Kirby officials were shocked at how ill-equipped and ill-trained the area’s response team was.

“At the very least we need response capacity – boats and equipment situated in the central coast. We need central coast residents to be trained in order to deal with an incident such as this. I truly believe that with the Heiltsuk First Nation’s experience and local knowledge they have a better idea of what’s needed. Considering it will be some time until we see the Transport Canada investigation results, there are unanswered questions around pilotage and shipping regulations.”

Cullen, Rice and the rest of Canada await word from Prime Minister Trudeau about action on his election promise of an oil tanker ban along the North Coast, but until then, Cullen said he’s unsatisfied with the current conditions, let alone ramped up activity with any industry looking to establish a footprint on the coast.

“It’s just not enough for the feds to even contemplate these pipelines and adding even more risk to our coast when they haven’t even taken care of the risks that exist today,” Cullen said.

– With files from Caitlin Thompson

Electoral reform committee to recommend new system

Cullen and the rest of the electoral reform committee are expected to present their recommendation of Canada’s new voting system to the House of Commons in the following days. Cullen and the committee spoke to experts and average Canadians and took feedback from across the country over the summer and into the fall to come up with their decision.

“It’s historic. We’ve been talking about this issue in parliament for almost 100 years and this is the first time we’ve come this far along in the process. I’m pretty excited,” he said.

The government will now need to decide how to implement the system and how to ask Canadians to legitimize the new system, whether it be referendum, party agreement or other process.