The new Minister of Transport Marc Garneau held consultations on the North Coast of British Columbia on Thursday as part of his mandate to formalize a moratorium on crude-oil tankers in the area.
Garneau made a stop in Prince Rupert as part of his nation wide tour and met with a variety of stakeholders on the issue.
"I'm here consulting because this will affect the lives of people living on the North Coast of British Columbia and it's important that their voices be heard. Yes, I've been mandated to put into place — formally — a moratorium on the shipment of crude-oil here on the North Coast. In order to do that I need to talk to people who represent different stakeholder groups. Some of them are from the shipping industry, some of them are environmentalists and of course first and foremost our First Nations who are the coastal people of this part of the country," he said.
A moratorium on crude-oil tankers has been debated before. In 2010, Liberal MP Joyce Murray introduced a private member's bill to legislate a tanker ban on the coast. Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen also advocates for a tanker ban. He put forward a private member's bill, the Act to Defend the Pacific Northwest, to prohibit oil tankers in the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. The bill was defeated in April 2015.
A ban, however, might deny U.S. oil tankers access to the Alaskan Panhandle. In response to concerns about how the moratorium might affect foreign relations with the U.S. government Garneau said, "Well it depends on how we proceed with it. When we talk about the North Coast of British Columbia it also includes the Dixon Entrance, and as you know for a very long time, that area is an area where our two countries the United States and Canada, have not resolved who owns what. Obviously if one has a moratorium one has to consult and that's why Minister Stéphane Dion, who is responsible for Global Affairs or Foreign Affairs, will also have to be consulted."
Another issue at hand in the North Coast involves a plea to increase federal ferry subsidies. Recently the Minister of Transport from British Columbia visited Garneau in Ottawa to state his case on increasing federal ferry subsidies for B.C. residents, but Garneau said that no decisions have been made at this time.
Prince Rupert's strategic importance as a port on the Asian-Pacific gateway and as a key CN rail route in North America was not lost on Garneau.
"It's an extremely important port. It has enormous potential. As the transport minister one of my primary concerns is to affect in an efficient way getting all of the products that Canada produces and wants to export to other countries is to get them sent out to our ports so that they can go to other countries. In other words making our transportation infrastructure as efficient as possible," he said.
In the morning Garneau flew over the Prince Rupert by helicopter to look at the expansion of the port.
"It's a remarkable story what has happened here in terms of the container market. It has grown tremendously here," he said. "I think it has a bright future. We'll certainly be, in Transport Canada, trying to help to optimize that routing and that infrastructure."