The Senate is kicking off its first of several hearings on the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act in northwest B.C., where coastal people have been demanding a ban for more than 10 years.
“We have over 50 witnesses testifying,” said Senator David Tkachuk, chair of the committee.
On Tuesday, April 16, the first group of witnesses from Old Massett to Nuxalk Nation will testify to the Senate committee of Transport and Communications in Prince Rupert at the Highliner Plaza Hotel from 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The next day, a meeting will be held in the Best Western in Terrace, 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
“We’ve got some people on our committee that are for the tanker ban bill, and some that are opposed to it, so we expect to hear witnesses on both sides,” Tkachuk said.
Since 2006, when Enbridge proposed building Northern Gateway, a pipeline to ship diluted bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, communities along the coast have opposed crude oil tanker traffic in northern waters.
After the federal government shut down the Northern Gateway project late 2016, it announced legislation to ban tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil from unloading at ports between Alaska and B.C., down the North Coast, around Haida Gwaii to the tip of Vancouver Island.
If the legislation is passed, there could be penalties of up to a maximum of $5 million.
One of the most vocal opponents to Bill C-48, the oil tanker moratorium, is Calvin Helin, president and chairman of Eagle Spirit Energy Holding Ltd. On April 10, Helin, who is a Lax Kw’alaams member, spoke to the Senate committee in Ottawa on the moratorium.
Helin’s company has plans to build a pipeline to carry crude oil from Fort McMurray to Grassy Point, near Prince Rupert, and ship from there. He said if the moratorium goes through he will find another way to ship oil from his proposed pipeline.
“We will put our port in Hyder, Alaska and we will ship our oil out of the same Dixon Entrance under the American flag,” Helin said to the committee. “That’s why there really isn’t a moratorium in B.C. The Canadian government will have to deal with the American government.”
At the first meeting in B.C. politicians will weigh in on the issue, including Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, and Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain. Cullen has openly criticized the Canadian government for its lack of urgency in legislating the ban before the next election.
On Day Two, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross will present, along with Eva Clayton, president of Nisga’a Nation, and Kitimat Mayor Philip Germuth.
Following meetings in northwest B.C., the Senate committee will hold hearings in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where Tkachuk said many people are not in favour of the tanker ban.
“Hopefully the senators get a feel of how the country feels about this bill. It’s been very controversial and it will continue to be controversial until it’s dealt with,” he said.
In the Senate committee stage, a witness testimony could influence the decision to amend the bill, which would lengthen the process of the oil tanker ban becoming law.
“Some of us feel that it could be amended, and others, some feel that maybe we could have corridors where maybe you could have tankers, where pipelines would go,” Tkachuk said, adding that he’s not in favour of this method. “Because you don’t know if 10 years from now that will be a corridor that would seem to be a safe way to move product.”
He’d rather see a proposed pipeline project go through an environmental process, with public input, before considering the inclusion of a special corridor for crude oil tankers.
The last set of public hearings will be in Alberta and Saskatchewan from April 29 until early May.
From there, the Senate will review Bill C-48, and either approve it as is, or make amendments, sending it back to the House of Commons.
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Shannon Lough | Editor
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