Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-48.
Sierra Club BC strongly supports this oil tanker moratorium act. However, to truly protect the coast and all who depend on it, we believe the bill needs to be strengthened in four key ways, outlined in our written brief, which I am told you will be getting very shortly: limiting the ministerial exemption to emergency circumstances; including refined oil under the scope of the bill; decreasing the tonnage threshold to 3,200 tonnes, which, according to a recent Transport Canada report, is the maximum needed for community fuel supply; and expanding the geographic scope to prohibit vessels above 3,200 tonnes from transporting crude or refined oil through Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance, and Queen Charlotte Sound.
We believe these amendments are necessary, because oil spill cleanup is effectively impossible, and because B.C.'s north coast, the Great Bear Rainforest, is a unique and special place, truly a global treasure worth protecting.
Some years ago, I was invited to a feast at the Gitga’at Nation in Hartley Bay. The table in the big house was loaded with food from the ocean, food you can't find in a grocery store: smoked eulachon, sea cucumbers, and sea lion. The seaweed was particularly good, so I asked around to see if I could buy some to take home. The next morning, a woman came up to me and gifted me a big bag of seaweed; she wouldn't let me pay. In return, she said, I could help them stop the tankers.
It's difficult to overemphasize how the narrow waterways of the north coast are the breadbasket, livelihood, and culture to coastal communities. This is a place where you can watch a spirit bear catch a salmon, catch a whiff of a sea lion colony, and come eye to eye with the coastal wolves that eat seafood. Even on land, the globally recognized Great Bear Rainforest depends on a healthy ocean. The bears eat barnacles, and the trees actually grow bigger in years with good salmon runs. There is nowhere else on earth like it, so we commend the government for introducing Bill C-48.
This bill is an important step in preventing oil spills. In the case of a spill, what industry considers a success—10% to 15% recovery in accessible locations in good weather—is really a disaster for the communities and ecosystems left behind. While improving our spill response capacity is a good thing, having a bigger mop doesn't actually prevent the spills from happening in the first place.
In October of last year, the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground in Heiltsuk territory. This was an articulated tug barge that transported petroleum products between Washington state and Alaska. Fortunately, the fuel barge was empty. Even so, the sinking of the tug spilled over 100,000 litres of diesel, contaminating important harvesting and cultural sites. The response was slow, uncoordinated, and completely ineffectual for the conditions. Booms broke, and waves crashed over the booms. Fisheries are still closed. The Nathan E. Stewart provides a sobering reminder of the challenges of spill response in remote locations, and that social, economic, and environmental impacts can be very severe from even a relatively small spill of refined oil products. Note that I am not talking about just crude oil or persistent oil, but also the impacts of refined oil spills.
There are two refineries undergoing environmental assessment in northern B.C. that would result in supertankers carrying refined oil. These non-persistent oils are acutely toxic to marine organisms. The risk of an oil spill was a key motivating factor in why so many municipalities, first nations, unions, regional districts, businesses, and individuals over the years spoke out against Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal, and why coastal first nations have declared a ban on tankers in their territories.
This government has broad-based public support for a tanker ban. However, the expectation is that the bill prohibit all tankers, not just some tankers. As I have outlined, this can be done through amendments that continue to allow for community fuel supply while prohibiting articulated tug barges, as well as tankers, from carrying refined oil.
While Bill C-48 focuses on the north coast, it must be mentioned that oil tankers also pose a huge risk to the communities, the economy, and the wildlife on the south coast of B.C., and that LNG tankers are a safety hazard. True coastal protection would ban oil and gas tankers, both north and south. Then, instead of investing in spill response, we could support the wild salmon economy and expand renewable energy production that could generate jobs without damaging our climate or putting our coast at risk of spills.