Evidence of meeting #76 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was tankers.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Natasha Rascanin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Transformation, Department of Transport
Gillian Grant  Team Leader and Senior Counsel, Maritime Law, Department of Transport
Jennifer Saxe  Acting Director General, Marine Policy, Department of Transport

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Hon. Judy A. Sgro (Humber River—Black Creek, Lib.)) Liberal Judy Sgro

I call to order the meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, 42nd Parliament, meeting number 76, pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, October 4, 2017, Bill C-48, an act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia's north coast.

Appearing today we have departmental staff, and we have Minister Marc Garneau here for the first hour.

Minister Garneau, welcome. I'll turn the floor over to you.

October 19th, 2017 / 3:30 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Marc Garneau LiberalMinister of Transport

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Madam Chair and esteemed members of the committee, I am pleased to be here with you again today to speak about a third bill that advances my mandate priorities.

I'm sure I hardly need to remind you that we Canadians enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Among the many beautiful places in our country, the stretch of rainforest along British Columbia's northern coast is unique. There is nothing quite like it. The thought of this pristine ecosystem being fouled by oil pollution is simply intolerable.

That is why I am here today to speak to the proposed legislation intended to preserve and protect these coastal areas—namely, Bill C-48. I'm happy to outline the rationale for Bill C-48, the oil tanker moratorium act. The comprehensive measures of the proposed legislation are the result of extensive consultations with Canadians. While there continue to be differing perspectives, what we did hear loud and clear is that the transport of both crude oil and persistent oils by sea should be prohibited near the pristine coasts of northern B.C.

The proposed moratorium would cover all ports and marine installations in the area encompassing northen B.C. and extending from our border with Alaska in the north down to B.C.'s mainland adjacent to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Tankers with more than 12,500 tonnes of crude or persistent oil as cargo would be prohibited from stopping, loading, or unloading at ports or marine installations in this area.

The definition of crude oil in the proposed legislation is based on the one in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, which is familiar to the shipping industry. Persistent oils are heavier and stickier. Because of this, they tend to break up and dissipate more slowly, and if they are spilled, they are more likely to cling to birds, wildlife, and shorelines. Examples of persistent oils in the moratorium schedule include partially upgraded bitumen and synthetic crude oil. We may consider changes to the list of targeted goods if a review of the scientific evidence and innovations in the transportation of oil or cleanup technology show that changes are justified. The safety of the environment will always be the main consideration, and any changes would have to be made through a regulatory amendment.

We recognize that many communities in the area of the proposed moratorium are not accessible by road or rail and depend on oil to be brought in by ship. To ensure the resupply of these communities and their industries, this act would allow individual shipments of less than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil to continue.

To reinforce how seriously we take this matter, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act also includes reporting requirements and strict penalties for violations.

All tankers capable of carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of oil would be required to report on the cargo they are carrying, or picking up, within the moratorium area. This information would have to be submitted 24 hours before the tanker calls at a port or marine installation.

I want to reassure shippers that the reporting burden would be kept to a minimum, because we are aligning the new requirements with existing reporting processes.

The only additional requirement for shippers would be to report the specific type of oil they are carrying and the amount of oil that would be loaded or unloaded at a port or marine installation in northern B.C.

With respect to enforcement, Transport Canada already has marine inspectors who enforce existing marine legislation. These inspectors would enforce the proposed Oil Tanker Moratorium Act to ensure compliance.

The powers these inspectors would have under this act would be similar to the authorities they have under existing marine legislation such as the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Inspectors would have the authority to board an oil tanker and take samples, or conduct tests, to verify compliance with the act. If a marine inspector had reasonable grounds to believe the law had been violated, the oil tanker could be detained.

Again, I want to emphasize that the safety of the environment is our top priority in advancing this legislation. Lest anyone doubt that, let me note that we would support this moratorium with an enforcement regime that could result in fines for violators of up to $5 million.

These strong measures against potential oil pollution are what Canadians want and expect.

Canadians helped us set the parameters of the oil tanker moratorium act. In 2016, I undertook an extensive series of engagement sessions, and met with stakeholders with clear views on a proposed moratorium. I talked to coastal and inland indigenous groups. I also met with environmental organizations, marine and resource industries, and representatives of affected communities. I met with colleagues from provincial and municipal governments as well. People across Canada logged on to our website to comment on the proposed oil tanker moratorium. I listened to their views on improving marine safety in Canada and formalizing an oil tanker moratorium.

It's clear that Canadians share certain goals—to keep our economy strong and protect the environment. We understand that marine safety is a precondition to sustainable economic development.

Madam Chair, this legislation complements our government's larger national strategy to promote marine safety and coastal protection under the $1.5-billion oceans protection plan, which we announced in November 2016. As part of this plan, we are investing in new prevention and response measures, based on the latest oil spill cleanup science and technology.

Madam Chair, and members of the committee, this legislation is long overdue. Canadians have been asking for this for years. Fortunately, it is not too late. Once passed by Parliament, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act will provide an unprecedented level of environmental protection for British Columbia's north coast.

The oil tanker moratorium will allow us to preserve this precious ecosystem for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations. We have an opportunity now to accomplish something of historic importance. And we should grasp that opportunity.

And so I urge this committee, and my fellow parliamentarians, to support this bill.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would now be happy to answer your questions.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much, Minister Garneau.

We'll move on to Ms. Block.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I thank you, Minister, for joining us today, and your departmental officials. We appreciate your taking the time.

Minister, in your mandate letter, the Prime Minister instructed you to formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia's north coast, working in collaboration with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Minister of Natural Resources, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop an approach.

Given that you received this mandate letter on the heels of your appointment, I'm wondering if you could explain to the committee what exactly you were consulting on, since you already had been instructed to formalize this moratorium.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

It is one thing to describe a mandate in a few sentences. It is another to put together a piece of legislation.

There were a number of options that could be used to implement the moratorium, and this involved discussions with my colleagues as well as stakeholders. The whole objective here was to come up with the best way to implement this moratorium. There were different options that were contemplated, including, of course, the very matter of what kinds of hydrocarbons would be included in this moratorium. There were lots of details to be worked out and that's where the consultations came into play.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Thank you very much.

Again, your mandate letter spoke about developing an approach, which you just referenced, in terms of developing legislation, so here's my next question. During the consultation process your department undertook and the following deliberations on the substance of those consultations, did your office or the department develop metrics or determine the weight of a witness's testimony?

For example, did your office or the department set about applying a rating of importance to the testimony of those representing an affected community?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

We took everybody's testimony as being an important contribution to our determination of how we would implement this proposed legislation. It meant that we were going to meet with, first of all, the peoples who live along that coast and who, in many cases, have been there for millennia.

We started with indigenous coastal communities: the Nisga’a, the Metlakatla, the Lax Kw’alaams, the Haisla, the Haida, and the Heiltsuk. We did extensive consultations with those who live there and who have the most at stake, if I can put it that way.

We also met with the shipping industry, because the shipping industry obviously has a very strong presence on the west coast of Canada. We also met with environmental groups, which have very strong views on the issue of a moratorium. We engaged also with government officials at the municipal level—such as those from the City of Prince Rupert, which is in the middle of this area—and provincially as well.

We were very engaged with everybody, and everybody's input was considered to be important.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Thank you very much.

I think what I've heard is that an environmental group with an interest in the outcome of an oil tanker moratorium would have the same weight as a coastal indigenous community. Is that what you were saying?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

It's a difficult thing to say that we're going to give this many points to this person's testimony and that many points to.... What we're looking for is the kinds of comments and recommendations they make to us. Some recommendations and comments may bring us to places that we hadn't thought about and may help us to make the decision about which of the options we're going to go forward with.

We're certainly sensitive to the fact that we want to develop the economy of our country, but at the same time, we made an election promise in 2015 that we were going to put in place a tanker moratorium. The important part is how we do it whilst also balancing our economic priorities.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Thank you.

I have one final short question. Would you provide the committee with any documents that relate to how your office or the department evaluated the witness testimony?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

I'm not sure that.... Let me just say on that particular score that I will consult with my department to see what documentation would be available for that purpose, and we'll get back to you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much.

Mr. Badawey.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Vance Badawey Liberal Niagara Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here this afternoon.

Minister, since 1985 there has been a voluntary tanker exclusion zone, the TEZ, in place along British Columbia's coast. The TEZ ensures that loaded tankers carrying oil from Valdez, Alaska, to U.S. west coast ports transit west of the TEZ boundary to protect the shoreline. Therefore, Bill C-48 will simply be formalizing the status quo with respect to what's been occurring in that area. This has existed since 1985 and has not had any discernible negative impacts on international marine trade.

Here's my first question. In your opinion and that of the consulted stakeholders who you've spent a lot of time with, including first nations, will the moratorium provide an important added level of protection to measures already in place?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

You're quite right to point out that over 30 years ago a voluntary exclusion zone was put in place, for the reasons you mentioned. It speaks to the fact that there was a clear recognition at that time, which the United States agreed with, that waters in the northern part of B.C.—and I'm talking about the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, waters around Haida Gwaii—were extremely sensitive, ecologically speaking. I'm proud of the fact that the exclusion zone for tanker traffic, as you say, coming from Valdez has been respected, and there have not been any incidents since then.

This formalizes, as you point out, something that was already in place. It also puts it into legislation and specifically identifies the ports along the coast as being places where tankers cannot come in or leave with the purposes of shipping certain kinds of crude and persistent oils. In a way it's the formalization, but it's also a legalization of it, which is something that we undertook to do in 2015.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Vance Badawey Liberal Niagara Centre, ON

Thank you.

Minister, during the 2015 federal election, there was a commitment to formalize an oil tanker moratorium on British Columbia's north coast, one of the most pristine, biodiverse habitats in the world, which will provide a high level of coastal protection around the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and the Queen Charlotte Sound.

In November 2016 Prime Minister Trudeau announced a $1.5-billion oceans protection plan that would improve oil spill responses on the B.C. coast and create a world-leading maritime safety system. This bill also penalizes violations and puts into place penalties that could reach up to $5 million.

In your opinion, is this going far enough or can it go further in the future?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

When one looks at coastal, maritime nations, you'll see that the oceans protection plan—which includes over 50 measures and is a $1.5-billion plan—takes us to a world-leading level in terms of what it does, in terms of committing to infrastructure to not only monitor our maritime areas but also to be able to respond much more quickly if something were to happen.

It also sets new standards in many areas. For example, we are going to be spending money—I announced it a week ago—on improving our hydrographic services so that we better understand what's under the water in order to make sure we're not going to have collisions, because some of our charts are old.

It involves first nations in a way that has never been done. It's something first nations wanted to be involved with, and something they are very good at. They're often the first responders, and it's something that of course they have a huge stake in because they live along the coast. It will be addressing the issue of abandoned and derelict vessels. Some of those elements are coming out at the moment. It also will continue to work on science. When all of that is taken into account, we will have a world-leading system.

The north coast, however, doesn't have all the infrastructure that the south coast does—or the east coast, or the St. Lawrence—and it is a particularly sensitive area. That is why we are putting the moratorium in place and overlaying on that the oceans protection plan.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Vance Badawey Liberal Niagara Centre, ON

My last question, Mr. Minister, is with respect to a concern about vessel traffic and our ability to encourage more economy in that area. What percentage of vessel traffic within the voluntary and now the moratorium area is actually carrying petroleum or petroleum products? How much of this traffic would be subject to the proposed tanker moratorium?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

At the moment, within the area covered by the moratorium—the northern coast of British Columbia—there is traffic. There is tug and barge traffic that brings up and down the coast some of the natural resources that are harvested in northern British Columbia. There is also—and this is in the legislation and is why I talked about the 12,500-tonne limit for a tanker—the requirement to resupply certain very remote communities in British Columbia that are really only accessible by ship or air. There are no roads.

There was a clear recognition that we would need to continue to have some tanker traffic to bring heating and industrial fuels that would allow these communities to continue to prosper. We gave some very serious thought to what that limit—what our maximum—should be.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. I'm sorry to interrupt.

Ms. Malcolmson, welcome. It's good to have you here.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Minister. I applaud the intention of the bill, especially knowing that it's designed to protect the incredible biodiversity of the Great Bear Rainforest region, Gwaii Haanas. There's a long-term New Democrat private member's bill, among others, so we're really glad to see it coming forward.

A concern, though, is that Bill C-48 doesn't do anything to prevent the kind of disaster we saw a year ago in Heiltsuk territory, the Nathan E. Stewart barge spill, because it specifically excludes refined oil products from the ban.

Even if they were included, the 12,500-tonne threshold is high enough to allow them to pass through some of B.C.'s most sensitive waters. Disasters like the Nathan E. Stewart show that we need better regulation and enhanced investments in spill prevention and response in the region.

My question is two-fold. First, why should large petroleum tanker barges be excluded from the bill, given the risks that we know already exist in the region? Second, is there a scientific case to exclude refined oil products from this legislation?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

There are a number of facets to your question. There is a schedule of forbidden fuels, the ones we call persistent oils. On the other hand, certain lighter fuels such as naphtha kerosene, aviation gasoline, or LNG are not excluded from this.

There needs to be traffic along the coast because of the resupply that I mentioned in my last answer. The question is, how much? What capacity should they be able to carry to do their resupply along this 400-kilometre coast?

The Nathan E. Stewart incident pinpointed very clearly why we need to have an oceans protection plan. I couldn't agree with you more that we definitely needed to take action. I went up to Bella Bella, and I met with the Heiltsuk. I have been in contact with Chief Slett on a number of occasions. That unfortunate incident highlighted the need for us to put in place measures that would allow us, ideally, to prevent this kind of incident from occurring, or if it did occur, to respond very quickly.

We will be taking extremely seriously the recommendations to the Transportation Safety Board, which is currently completing its investigation of this unfortunate event.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you.

I am also hearing a broad concern that the exemption, which is in subclause 6(1) of the bill, allows you as the minister to exempt identified oil tankers from the ban, by order, on any terms and for any period of time. Some of the NGOs have called this a loophole so big you could drive an oil tanker through it.

Subclause 6(2) says that the Statutory Instruments Act does not apply to such exemption orders. This removes the requirement that such exemption orders would be published, transparent, and made easily available for public examination.

We're concerned that although the act broadly has great intentions, this could effectively gut the purpose of the oil tanker moratorium act.

Why is that broad ministerial power necessary, given that the bill already provides clear exemptions for distress and vessels under the control of the Minister of National Defence? Why are the ministerial exemption orders excluded from the application of the Statutory Instruments Act, which would give more transparency?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

I would dispute your interpretation of broad powers to do it. I can assure you this is not a sneaky, surreptitious stealth way of doing tanker traffic, by having the minister regularly invoke special powers. This is very specifically focused on one situation, which is a very serious unexpected emergency situation that occurs somewhere along the coast on a one-time basis where there is a need for a larger amount of fuel for whatever reason.

In that case, the discretion exists with the minister to invoke that exception. However, we're not going to be talking about sneakily trying to develop tanker traffic on the north coast of British Columbia after putting in place a moratorium.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Minister, thank you for appearing.