Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this afternoon. I absolutely take note of your concerns about the use of proper names in the House.
It is my pleasure and honour to rise here to speak to this incident. However, this is also difficult for me, since the events of last week affected British Columbia, where I am from, and its citizens.
The oil spill in the port of Vancouver is very troubling, and last week's events should raise a red flag. Because of the cuts made by the Conservatives when it comes to protecting our coastal waters, our economy and our environment, the response capacity following a spill in British Columbia is woefully inadequate.
Furthermore, I am not the only one to say so. In 2010, the Auditor General sent a very clear message about this problem: not only does the Conservative government have no plan to protect our coastal waters, our economy and our marine environment, but it is also putting the oil industry before the people of the west coast.
For me and my fellow British Columbians, the response, or rather the lack of response, on the part of the Conservative government to this situation is unbelievable.
We want to put some of this into some context. In British Columbia, the seafood industry represents $1.7 billion just to the B.C. economy. Tourism represents $1.5 billion per year and is growing. Just those two industries, which rely heavily on the importance and protection of our coast, employ 45,000 people across British Columbia. Just on economic terms, one would think the government would be at least a little preoccupied with protecting and maintaining services to our environment.
Let us look at the spill that happened in the port of Vancouver, the busiest and largest port in Canada, on Wednesday, April 8. I am going to walk members through the timeline, because it is important to the context to prove in fact, rather than in spin and hyperbole which we get from the government, the realities on the water and coast in British Columbia, and the results of the cutbacks the Conservatives have made to coastal protection. These include not only the marine safety cuts more broadly, but the shutting down of the oil spill response centre, the marine communications centres and particularly the Kitsilano Coast Guard base. It operates one of the busiest Coast Guard bases in the country and operates so close to where this incident happened.
When we look at the timeline of events, it is incontrovertible that the Auditor General back in 2010, going back five years now, said:
Emergency management plans are not all up to date
The Canadian Coast Guard lacks a national approach to training, testing its plans, and maintaining its equipment
Procedures for verifying preparedness of the Canadian Coast Guard are not in place
Responses to ship-source spills are poorly documented
There is no national regime for ship-source chemical spills.
That was the wake-up call the Auditor General gave to the government five years ago. In the meantime, what has the government's response been? It has been to cut more money from the Coast Guard and DFO budgets on the west coast, to shut down bases, and at the same time, tragically, to try to force through a much greater expansion of dangerous goods through those very same coastal waters, namely, the Enbridge northern gateway pipeline and the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which together plan to move in excess of 1.5 million barrels a day of diluted bitumen through B.C.'s waters.
Let us look at this bunker spill that came off of this one ship, the Marathassa. At five o'clock on Wednesday evening, sailors noticed a sheen across the water in the port in Vancouver. They notified the Coast Guard, which notified Port Metro Vancouver. One would think that when there is an oil spill of some kind in a busy, well-populated place with beaches and tourism and all that goes on, they would be quick to the response.
At six o'clock, an hour later, the port sent out a boat. Three hours later, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation was notified. Four and a half hours later, crews from the WCMRC arrived on the scene. It is not until the next morning, at 4 a.m., that the Coast Guard was able to identify the source of the spill, even though the people in sailboats and pleasure craft who first noticed it told the coast guard and the port exactly where it was coming from. They were sailing right by the ship and could see the plume coming out of it. Twelve hours later is when the coast guard notified the city. One would think there might have been some interest in notifying the City of Vancouver, which has all of these beaches where people swim, and where dog walkers and folks use the very same coastline. It was more than 12 hours later, at 5:53 a.m., that response crews secured a boom around the ship. It was twelve and a half hours later, to be exact.
That is what the current government calls a world-class response, world-class oil emergency preparedness. That is what the Conservatives have consistently said through all of the debates on these pipelines on the west coast: “Don't worry, Canadians. Don't worry, British Columbians. We have world-class systems”. Well, that was a world-class lie. What we saw in reality with an incident that happened in the immediate vicinity of the city of Vancouver with some millions of people, with all of these ships and supposed equipment ready to handle this kind of thing—that is where the clean-up services are—is that it took them twelve and a half hours to show up and put a boom around it.
The tragedy with not only this type of spill, but also with the millions of barrels of bitumen that the government would like to move through our waters, is that much of it sinks. The securing of booms is one small and partial measure. However, anyone who wants to note that this is a clean-up operation, in the sense that things are cleaned up after the fact, should dissuade themselves of that idea. A 5% to 10% recovery is typical in a diluted bitumen spill. They would call that cleaned up.
I have little kids. If I asked them to clean up their room and they cleaned up somewhere between 5% and 10% of their room and said “Dad, we're done”, I, like I would suggest all parents, would say “Not yet, kids. That's not cleaned up. Now, let's get the rest of the 90% done”.
Now that is a child's room and we can laugh about it. However, when we are talking about 90% or 95% of the spilled oil in one of the incidents going into our environment, embedding itself on our shores, within the fish, within our ecosystems, the impact is not only on the environment but on our economy. As we saw on the gulf coast, and with the Valdez spill in Alaska, north of where I live, it can be devastating
We know that this was an accident, but yet an accident almost prescribed in the way that we deal with it, with a government that consistently tears up environmental laws, downgrades and guts the environmental protections within the Fisheries Act, the navigable waters act, and on and on. It then further compounds the problem by not only stealing away our legal protections, but goes further and makes cuts to the very services that we need.
Tomorrow these guys are going to present this balanced budget and people are going to ask how we got there. This is how we got there. This is how they chose to get there, by cutting the basic protections that Canadians need.
The former base commander who operated Kitsilano Coast Guard station, Commander Moxey, said that if the Kitsilano station that had a ship that did this exact thing were available and ready, which it would have been if they did not shut the base, he figures we could have been there in six minutes.
What was the Conservatives' response? It was twelve and a half hours until the boom showed up. This is what they think is protection.
One can only wonder. Even with a coming election and everybody starting to position themselves, only a government of complete arrogance and taking people entirely for granted would suggest this to British Columbians, who deeply care about their coast and the protection of that coast, not just for us but for all Canadians. Only a government taking people for granted would take these very measures that the government has taken. This is a wake-up call. This was a spill, and it is an important spill. However, in the global scale and what is projected, the threats posed by the Conservatives and their friends in the oil patch would be minor compared with the spills we would experience from a much larger ship.
If this does not wake the government, like the Auditor General's report did not wake it up, like the private members' bills we move here do not wake it up, like the the polling of the people of British Columbia cannot wake government members up, then there is a date in the near future, the fall of 2015, when people in B.C. and right across this country will not only wake them up, they will toss them out.