Lib­eral tanker ban sink­ing

When elec­tion prom­ises come be­fore sense

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN IVI­SON in Ot­tawa

Marc Garneau prob­a­bly wished he were back on the space shut­tle.

The trans­port min­is­ter — the govern­ment’s point per­son on C-48, the oil tanker mora­to­rium act that is cur­rently be­ing dis­mem­bered by unco-op­er­a­tive sen­a­tors — was called upon to de­fend the bill be­fore the Sen­ate trans­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tions committee Tues­day.

The committee is made up of Con­ser­va­tives and Lib­eral-ap­pointed in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors, who are prov­ing more non-aligned than the govern­ment might wish.

Paula Si­mons, a for­mer jour­nal­ist who is now an in­de­pen­dent se­na­tor rep­re­sent­ing Al­berta, sug­gested to Garneau that Bill C-69 (the govern­ment’s en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment re­form that is also bogged down in the Sen­ate) is a ro­bust piece of leg­is­la­tion that would sub­ject any plans for a new port on the west coast to the same rig­or­ous scru­tiny as any new pipe­line. “Isn’t C-48 su­per­flu­ous and re­dun­dant?” she asked.

Garneau brushed off the sug­ges­tion by say­ing C-48 is spe­cific to a re­gion — namely, it pro­hibits tankers car­ry­ing “per­sis­tent” oil (a de­fined list that in­cludes crude but does not in­clude propane or liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas) from un­load­ing at ports on the west coast, from the north­ern tip of Van­cou­ver Is­land to the Alaskan border.

But he slipped up by ac­knowl­edg­ing the real rea­son the Lib­er­als are in­tent on driv­ing the bill through par­lia­ment, in the teeth of fierce op­po­si­tion: “It fol­lows from an elec­tion prom­ise that was made.”

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Vot­ers should generally com­mend gov­ern­ments for ful­fill­ing the prom­ises on which they were elected. But not if they were made in haste and don’t make sense in a shift­ing geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape.

Over the past year, I have spo­ken to a num­ber of peo­ple in­volved in the 2015 Lib­eral elec­tion cam­paign while re­search­ing a book on Justin Trudeau. More than one per­son used the phrase “third-party prom­ises” to de­scribe the Lib­er­als’ elec­toral com­mit­ments. “This sprawl­ing plat­form was cre­ated by a third-place party that had been out of power for a decade and was throw­ing stuff at the wall,” said one per­son with close knowl­edge of the cam­paign. “When some­one asked: ‘How are we go­ing to do all this stuff ?’ the re­sponse was: ‘ We’ll only have to if we get elected.’”

The tanker ban, an­nounced by Trudeau at Jeri­cho Beach in Van­cou­ver at the end of June 2015, fits that de­scrip­tion. At the time, the Con­ser­va­tives crit­i­cized the Lib­eral leader for “not un­der­stand­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of his poli­cies.”

Once in govern­ment, the an­nounce­ment of the mora­to­rium killed the North­ern Gate­way pipe­line to Kiti­mat, B.C. But since then the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion has faced all kinds of dif­fi­cul­ties and the En­ergy East project to ship Al­berta crude to At­lantic Canada has been aban­doned.

New projects, such as the Ea­gle Spirit pipe­line cor­ri­dor from Fort Mc­mur­ray to the north­west coast near Prince Ru­pert have been pro­posed. Thirty-five First Na­tions along the route sup­port the de­vel­op­ment.

But C-48 kills it, even though the pro­posed port of Grassy Point is only 10 min­utes from open ocean.

Garneau said his govern­ment is open to any amend­ments sen­a­tors might sug­gest, but when Doug Black, an in­de­pen­dent se­na­tor from Al­berta, asked if there were any prospect of a po­ten­tial ocean cor­ri­dor to Prince Ru­pert for oil prod­ucts, the min­is­ter said no. “The anal­ogy is a café where there is no smok­ing but one ta­ble is al­lowed to smoke. You can’ t guar­an­tee any spillage will stay in that cor­ri­dor,” he said.

Some Lib­er­als would be quite happy to see C-48 die on the or­der pa­per. There is no agree­ment for third read­ing in the Sen­ate and no guar­an­tees that it will be read be­fore the end of the sitting.

If it does, it is likely to be sent back to the House heav­ily amended. At the trans­port committee meet­ing, in­de­pen­dent Sen. Julie Miville-dechêne pointed out that the Nisga’a In­dige­nous peo­ple op­pose the mora­to­rium, which they be­lieve does not re­spect the treaty they have with the Crown be­cause it im­poses lim­its on their eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

In his re­sponse, Garneau said the govern­ment and the Nisga’a don’t agree, but the ma­jor­ity of First Na­tions on the coast are sup­port­ive of the ban.

Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tor David Wells pointed to Pla­cen­tia Bay in his na­tive New­found­land and Labrador, “the fog­gi­est place on Earth,” as some­where that has man­aged the risk to the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment with oil tanker traf­fic.

Garneau said New­found­land’s oil de­vel­op­ment pre­dates his govern­ment but that north­ern B.C. has not been “sub­jected to de­vel­op­ment and we want to keep it that way be­cause of its eco­log­i­cal fragility.”

That ex­pla­na­tion did not seem to wash with many of the sen­a­tors, who felt Trudeau’s mantra of the en­vi­ron­ment and the econ­omy go­ing to­gether “like pad­dles and ca­noes” has be­come un­bal­anced.

For some, C-48 traps Al­berta’s oil; for others, it im­pinges on First Na­tion sovereignty.

The tanker ban smacks of an idea that was flung at the wall be­fore the last elec­tion. It should prob­a­bly have stayed there.

JONATHAN HAY­WARD / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Once in govern­ment, the Lib­er­als’ an­nounce­ment of the mora­to­rium on tanker traf­fic killed the North­ern Gate­way pipe­line to Kiti­mat, B.C., John Ivi­son writes

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