Mr. Speaker, on what is likely the last sitting week of the 42nd Parliament, I appreciate the opportunity to outline both the necessity and benefits of Bill C-48, otherwise known as the oil tanker moratorium act. Let me begin by reminding members that Bill C-48 is the fulfillment of an election promise made in 2015. It was later included in both the minister's mandate letter and the Speech from the Throne.
Bill C-48 would provide an unprecedented level of environmental protection for the northern coast of British Columbia and the adjoining Great Bear Rainforest, one of the most pristine and unspoiled places left in Canada, and indeed the world. The Great Bear Rainforest represents approximately one-quarter of the world's remaining temperate rainforest. It is an extraordinarily rich and productive ecosystem that is often described as one of the lungs of the world because of its high oxygen production. The forest is largely intact due to special measures taken by both the federal and provincial governments over many years and by the relentless efforts of local people, including indigenous communities, to protect this extremely valuable ecosystem.
Bill C-48 would be complementary to these efforts, as well as the long-standing and well-respected voluntary tanker exclusion zone agreement between Canada and the United States that keeps Alaskan tankers like the Exxon Valdez far from our coast. Bill C-48 would effectively formalize into legislation a long-standing federal policy dating back to at least the 1970s not to allow large tanker traffic off of the northern coast of British Columbia. In fact, on my first trip to Haidi Gwaii, as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries and oceans at the time, I procured three posters that were used as fundraisers to campaign for this initial tanker ban in the 1970s, one of which is hanging in my constituency office in Burnaby.
Speaking to local residents, they are concerned about their environment and their way of life. A 2012 study reviewing offshore oil and gas development in British Columbia estimates the total annual benefits of marine-dependent activities in the traditional territories of coastal first nations at more than $30 billion. Unlike other regions in Canada, this policy legacy ensures that there is no existing tanker traffic near this coast. This means that formalizing the moratorium will not disrupt any current jobs or economic activity in the region. In fact, it would help protect existing industries, including fisheries, aquaculture and ecotourism.
Bill C-48 would continue to allow for the shipment of non-persistent oils. What this means is that communities along the north coast of British Columbia would continue to be open to economic development opportunities, including the recently announced $40-billion infrastructure project in Kitimat, B.C. Bill C-48 would not affect the estimated 10,000 jobs that are attached to that particular project. Very importantly, Bill C-48 would help to preserve the cultural and spiritual way of life of coastal first nations. As such, it is part of the Government of Canada's larger commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples. As we know, this is something that our government and our Prime Minister consider to be of the highest priority.
Members will recall that Bill C-48 was debated and studied in the House in 2017 and 2018. It was ultimately passed by the elected members of the House of Commons in May 2018, by a vote of 204 to 85. With the support of the Liberal Party of Canada, the NDP, the Green Party and the Groupe parlementaire du Parti québécois, only the Conservatives voted against it.
I would like to take a moment to thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, whose riding largely overlaps with the proposed moratorium zone and who has been a long-time advocate of formalizing the tanker ban into legislation. Along with our colleague from Vancouver Quadra, he has introduced private member's bills in previous Parliaments proposing a tanker ban, albeit through a different mechanism. He has been working with our government to secure support for this important bill in the other place, and his co-operation is greatly appreciated.
This bill was referred to the other place on May 9, 2018, and has been studied and debated there until just last week, more than a year before it was passed with an amendment and sent back to this chamber. I am grateful for the work undertaken in the other chamber, particularly during report stage and third reading. If colleagues have not had an opportunity to read or listen to some of these debates, I would encourage them to do so. They will be impressed by the high level and seriousness of the debate. Those debates ultimately led to the amendment that is before us today.
The Senate is proposing to modify Bill C-48 in a number of ways, most substantively by requiring a two-stage review. First would be a regional assessment that would be led by the Minister of Environment under authorities that would be established once Bill C-69 came into force.
The Minister of Environment would be required to invite the provincial governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as indigenous communities in the moratorium area, to enter into an agreement or arrangement respecting the joint establishment of a committee to conduct the regional assessment and the manner in which the assessment is to be carried out. This body would then have up to four years after coming into force to complete the report.
This would then feed into the second stage, a parliamentary review, which would take place five years after coming into force, and which would consider evidence gathered by the regional assessment and conduct further study and hearings before presenting its report to Parliament.
Let me begin by first stating we acknowledge that this is a thoughtful, creative and substantive amendment. We also recognize that the Senate's amendment, including the regional assessment component, is a well-intentioned and honourable attempt to find a compromise between supporters and opponents of the moratorium, as well as an attempt to depoliticize what has turned into a very contentious debate on this bill by requiring a more technical, evidence-based study.
In terms of the government's response, we support the Senate's call for a parliamentary review of Bill C-48 after five years. During report stage debate in the other place, Senator Sinclair remarked:
I too have concerns about the bill because it does constitute what appears to be an absolute ban on tanker traffic in an area, for good reason that might be applicable today, but I’m not so sure it will be applicable in the future.
He went on to state:
When it comes to how we can improve the bill, one of the options I want to talk to the chamber about is whether we might consider allowing for communities to change their minds at some point in the future and if they all agree that the ban should be lifted, then we would allow the bill to say so.
A parliamentary review after five years would allow such a conversation to take place. Committees could look at scientific evidence and new developments, hold meetings outside of Ottawa and provide an opportunity for all interested indigenous communities, provinces and other stakeholders to express their views.
However, for a number of reasons, we respectfully disagree with the Senate's recommendation to undertake a regional assessment. First, we feel this is unnecessary, given the requirement for a parliamentary review, as I just discussed. Secondly, there is consultation fatigue, particularly among communities living in northern B.C. and with coastal first nations, after many years of reviews and studies.
A non-comprehensive list of these reviews include the Senate transport committee study of Bill C-48 in 2019, Transport Canada consultations with communities and stakeholders held in 2016 and 2017 prior to the introduction of Bill C-48, the Canadian environmental assessment and National Energy Board review panel of Enbridge's northern gateway pipeline proposal held between 2010 and 2012, the Natural Resources Canada “Public Review Panel on the Government of Canada Moratorium on Offshore Oil and Gas Activities in the Queen Charlotte Region British Columbia” in 2004, the B.C. scientific review of offshore oil and gas moratorium in 2002, the joint Canada-B.C. “West Coast Offshore Exploration Environmental Assessment Panel” in 1986, the federal West Coast Oil Ports Inquiry in 1977 and last, but not least, the House of Commons special committee on environmental pollution in 1970-1971. I was almost tired going through the whole list, never mind the actual reports themselves.
It is important to note that many of the reviews I mentioned were led by regulators and bureaucrats, not politicians. They looked in detail at scientific evidence in a more technical way than parliamentary committees typically do. However, none of them led to a resolution of the fundamental political disagreements over this issue. At the end of the day, many of the scientific questions about whether or not it is safe or advisable to move crude oil in tankers off this particular coast are endlessly debatable. There is no reason to believe that yet another lengthy and expensive study would bridge these differences of opinion, especially one starting so soon after the coming into force of Bill C-48.
To be clear, the amendment proposes to start yet another review only 180 days after Bill C-48 comes into force. At some point, a decision needs to be taken based on the best evidence available and using the best judgment of parliamentarians about what is fair and reasonable, taking into account the wider Government of Canada approach on energy and the environment and on reconciliation with first nations.
Furthermore, there is, in our view, a need for a cooling-off period and a break to allow passions to settle and to take a breath. Coastal first nations have been fighting for a bill like this for almost 50 years. They deserve a break and some peace of mind.
Finally, the proposed approach would result in a lack of clarity over whether the authority provided to the Minister of Environment in Bill C-48 would be inconsistent or in conflict with the authority provided to the Minister of Environment in Bill C-69.
For all of these reasons, the government is proposing to accept the Senate amendment but in a modified form. We accept the adding of a parliamentary review in five years would come into force, but respectfully disagree with the requirement to hold a regional assessment. We feel this is a fair compromise with our colleagues in the other place and will allow them to achieve much, if not all, of what they intended, namely an opportunity to re-evaluate the law after a number of years.
Turning back to the bill itself, much of the debate on Bill C-48 so far has revolved around the question of why legislation is being proposed that effectively bans oil tankers from operating off the coast of northern British Columbia and not elsewhere in the country. Critics of the bill contend that this is arbitrary and unjustified, but I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth.
As the Minister of Transport explained when he appeared before the Senate transport committee, there are a number of factors that, when combined together, account for the uniqueness of the situation in northern British Columbia and the need for special measures to protect it.
The most obvious unique attribute of British Columbia's pristine north coast is the ecological significance of the area. The coastline runs along one of the last temperate rainforests left in the world and, even more rare, one of the very few to remain largely intact. These kinds of forests are unusually productive and support an extraordinarily rich web of biodiversity. The interface between the marine, coastal and terrestrial environments in this part of B.C. is seamless.
The Senate transport committee heard from experts who testified both to the unusually pristine nature of this ecosystem and to its vulnerability to the effects of a major oil spill. Canada has a kind of jewel in the Great Bear Rainforest which needs to be treasured and preserved for future generations. This is a responsibility we owe not only to ourselves but to the world. The precautionary principle, a principle I debated often within my previous role in fisheries and oceans, is fully justified in this case.
A second distinguishing factor is the long-standing policy legacy, at both the federal and provincial levels, of extending special protections to this part of the country. In essence, Bill C-48 would simply formalize an already well-established policy of barring oil tankers from this coast. As such, it would not be disruptive to any existing industries or employment, very much unlike the case if we were to propose such a moratorium off the coast of Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, or for the St. Lawrence for example.
A third factor that differentiates the northern coast of British Columbia is its shear size and remoteness and the navigational hazards of operating in these waters.
Environment Canada classifies the Hecate Strait as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world for shipping. Winds of 100 kilometres per hour and waves between eight and 10 metres are not uncommon in both the Hecate Strait and the Dixon Entrance. These combine to make spill response more challenging than in more populated, built-up areas like the south coast, the St. Lawrence or the east coast. Although our government is dramatically boosting our capacity to respond to accidents through our $1.5 billion oceans protection plan, resources cannot be unlimited. It will continue to be the case that northern B.C. will present special challenges, particularly during bad weather which is common on these seas.
Last, Bill C-48 is responding to a more than 40-year campaign by local people, and especially indigenous communities, who live along the coast to formalize the moratorium banning oil tankers. While it is true that opinion among indigenous communities is not universal, a clear majority of these communities that are situated in the proposed moratorium area want to pass this law. Most important, the communities that would be most vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill, such as the Haida and the Heiltsuk, have campaigned persistently for this bill. As such, it is part of our government's larger commitment to reconciliation with the first nations.
While I am sympathetic to the voices of indigenous groups further inland, which might like to participate in the economic benefits of a future, yet highly notional, pipeline that would go to the northern coast of B.C., I cannot disregard what a major oil spill would mean economically, culturally and spiritually to those who would bear the brunt of its effects. They deserve the peace of mind that Bill C-48 would bring them.
I note as well that coastal first nations have been joined by their neighbours in communities such as the city of Prince Rupert, the village of Queen Charlotte, the district of Kitimat, the city of Terrace, the town of Smithers, and the Skeena-Queen Charlotte regional district, which have all passed resolutions or written letters in support of the moratorium. There is also support by the Province of British Columbia.
In the short time that I have been in the House, I have had the opportunity to work on the government's $1.5 billion oceans protection plan, revisions to the Oceans Act in Bill C-55, restoring protections and introducing modern safeguards to the Fisheries Act via Bill C-68 and working to restore our whale population with our $167 million action plan.
We have expanded our marine protected areas from less than 1% under the previous government to over 8%. At the same time, we have reduced unemployment to historic lows, lifted 825,000 Canadians from poverty and Canadians have created more than a million new jobs.
It is the responsibility of any government to work hard to protect and restore the environment while growing the economy and creating more opportunities for Canadians. To do this successfully, we must balance competing demands and constraints, and I believe Bill C-48 would help us accomplish this balance.
I would like to quote a colleague from the other place, Senator Harder, who recently remarked:
...I hope that, one day, the people of the coast will tell the story of when their grandparents came to Ottawa to pass Bill C-48. I hope [we]...tell the story of how Canadians worked together to save the environment at this testing time.
It is time this bill was passed. I hope our colleagues in the other place will join our government in at long last making this a reality.