For some, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Vancouver was a welcome one when the country’s leader announced $1.5 billion of protection initiatives for Canada’s oceans and coastlines on Nov. 7.
For others, the announcements fell well short of high expectations placed on the West Coast of Canada, which have included Trudeau’s past campaign promises of a North Coast oil tanker ban and calls from MP Nathan Cullen and MLA Jennifer Rice for established advanced infrastructure for the central coast. The prime minister also did not mention any specific upgrades to the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) base in Prince Rupert, which the Province of B.C. had been advocating for, as well as three new heavy rescue tugboats on the B.C. coastline.
Among the initiatives Trudeau did announce include opening new radar sites in “key areas of high traffic commercial ports,” two new leased large vessels capable of towing large vessels and commercial ships (though where those will be stationed is still unclear), installed towing kits on CCG vessels and new Indigenous Community Response Teams, which will perform search and rescue, environmental response and incident command tasks after being trained.
While Premier Christy Clark said that she had no “cause for complaint with what we’ve seen today” after Trudeau’s announcement, others along B.C.’s North Coast would like to see more done.
Rice said early November that without an oil tanker ban, full preventative measures fall short.
“The best oil spill response is prevention. Witnessing first-hand the situation in Bella Bella (grounded barge and sunken tug), it is clear to me that it is past time for Trudeau to implement his election promise of a legislated [oil] tanker ban. Considering B.C. and Canada are so wholly inept at dealing with a small spill, we are nowhere near ready to have tanker traffic plying our coastal waters,” she said. Rice mentioned the specific addition of a cache of boom and oil spill cleanup equipment in the central coast.
Cullen also had choice words for what was announced by the prime minister on Nov. 7, stating that almost half the money not hitting the ground until after the next federal election was very concerning.
“Rather than go out and try to buy a bigger mop, let’s get rid of the risk in the first place…” Cullen said “[B.C. Premier] Christy Clark has happily signed off on the plan, but that was pushing an open door. She was looking for a number of years now for a way to say yes to Kinder Morgan, but in terms of protecting the coast for people whose livelihoods are on the line for communities who face the risk, what Mr. Trudeau offered up was pretty thin gruel. Any time a government is not serious about something, but wants to appear serious, they backload the funding,”
A press release from Wilderness Committee called the policies an act of theatre.
“People need to realize response to a tar sands spill is mostly just for show. Once that oil sinks, it’s game over. Nobody knows how to clean it up,” said Peter McCartney, Wilderness Committee climate campaigner. McCartney added that toxic diluent would evaporate and waft into densely populated areas, while the remaining bitumen would sink into the water column, poisoning marine life and washing up on beaches.
Bella Bella-based Heiltsuk director of integrated resource management Kelly Brown said that while the Nation hopes the national Ocean Protection Plan is implemented swiftly, an oil tanker ban should still be on the horizon.
“All the response teams in the world couldn’t reasonably hope to contain more than 15 per cent of a major spill, and ensuring that these vessels are never given the opportunity to transit Heiltsuk waters is a major focus for our Nation,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, the Gitxaala Nation were pleased with Trudeau’s announcements, calling it a step in the right direction for Indigenous relationships.
“When it comes to spill response, Indigenous peoples have the most to lose and the most to offer. The federal plan recognizes the importance of our traditional knowledge and expertise, our first-responder capacity and our reliance on the ocean’s bounty to sustain our communities,” said Gitxaala Chief Clifford White. “The Gitxaala people will be closely monitoring the implementation of this plan to ensure it meets its objectives of safeguarding our coastline and fully involves Indigenous peoples.”
Don Krusel, president and CEO of the Port of Prince Rupert, said last week that measures already taken by the port have been affirmed by the announcements made by Trudeau.
“Our effective partnerships with other marine safety agencies such as the Canadian Coast Guard are built on the foundation of this port’s naturally safe attributes. Robust safety practices, combined with ongoing investments in technological systems and sustainability programs, ensure that the benefits of the gateway industry are growing in concert with increased protection for the lands and waters under our stewardship,” Krusel said.
“Canadians expect that their ports will use evidence to reduce risk and raise safety standards. In the last few years alone, we have met and raised those standards through investments in navigation aids, shore-based radar and ongoing enhancements to our practices and procedures. This announcement validates that priority and will ensure that our safe port becomes even safer.”