Preserving our coast!

House of Commons


November 19, 2013

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-3. Many of my colleagues have spoken today, which is great because we do think that this is a very significant bill. It is a bill that needs to be thoroughly debated, both here in the House and in committee.

The first point I would like to make is that Bill C-3 is another omnibus bill that is being brought forward by the Conservative government.

Unfortunately, we have become used to receiving these mega-omnibus bills. This one is not as big as some of the budget bills we have had that stripped away environmental protection and regulations and put everything in but the kitchen sink. This is a small one but, nevertheless, it still is an omnibus bill. It actually would make amendments to five different acts, including the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act, and the Canada Shipping Act.

I am not going to focus on all aspects of the bill today because I have limited time to speak.

However, I do want to focus, particularly, on the marine act and the aspects pertaining to marine issues because I am from British Columbia and this, of course, is a huge issue for us on the west coast.

First, I would say that there are some positive aspects to the bill. We have gone through it very carefully and we can see that, for example, it would require pilotage and increased surveillance for boats, tankers, coming in, which is certainly a small step in the right direction.

However, we note that the bill would be too limited and there is still a lot more to do. Certainly, one of those things that needs to be done is for the government to reverse the effects that the drastic cuts in last year’s budget has had on tanker safety on the west coast.

When we read Bill C-3, I think we can see that it is a pretty thinly-veiled attempt to compensate, sort of like window dressing, for the previous inaction and the Conservative cuts to marine safety.

The measures that would improve safety in Bill C-3 are relatively small in comparison with the risks that are posed by the closing of the British Columbia’s oil spill response centre, shutting down the Kitsilano Coast Guard, and the gutting of the environmental emergency response programs.

We see a bill before us that would have some limited effect, but would not really be addressing the serious and major issues that are facing British Columbia, in terms of our marine conservation and safety, tanker traffic and safety. The bill would not go nearly far enough. It would probably be 5% of what needs to be done.

I know many of my colleagues have addressed this today, but I will add my voice, and make it clear that we in the NDP are committed to ensuring that oil spills never happen on our coast. Maybe some people think that is not a realistic position, that it is really just about damage control and mitigation of problems and disasters. We actually think that the policy we should work from would be to ensure that spills never happen.

That would mean taking a very different kind of approach. It would mean taking an approach based upon the precautionary principle. It would be an approached based upon the public interest. It would an approach based upon the fact that we believe the federal government has a critical role in making it clear that for marine industries, for tanker traffic, there have to be strong, clear, consistent rules that all the players adhere to so the oil spills can never happen.

Why would we take that approach?

We would take that approach because for anyone who has been in British Columbia and seen the incredibly beautiful and rugged coastline from north to south, the prospect that any of that coastline could be spoiled by a spill is just something that one does not want to contemplate. It is something that not only is a disaster, at the moment, but it is the impact.

I remember when the Exxon Valdez had its historic spill many decades ago, it was in the news for days, weeks, months. The devastation to the environment was enormous. The response to the spill was very limited.

People not only in B.C. but globally learned a lot from that. There was public consciousness about the safety of tanker traffic and the risk of spills increasing enormously.

That was many decades ago. Now we are talking about an environment and industry where supertankers with much greater capacity that make the Exxon Valdez look like a mini tanker. On the one hand we are told that safety provisions, design, double hulls and the like have improved.

The fact is there are still accidents and spills that take place, even where the hulls are doubled, so we think that taking the perspective of the precautionary principle is important. Therefore, we are committed to ensuring that there is legislation, policy and regulation to ensure that oils spills never happen on our coast. That is something we are committed to.

I believe it was in 2011 that we debated a motion brought by the NDP that sought to put into effect the existing verbal agreement, which in effect has been the 40-year ban on oil tankers off the coast of B.C. This so-called moratorium came about as a verbal commitment with the province of B.C. However, nothing was put in writing. It was a good motion and debate. The motion to have the moratorium put into legislative effect passed in the House at the time.

Unfortunately, the government never followed that up. Therefore, we still have this very uneasy situation on British Columbia. On the one hand we have this 40-year old moratorium but on the other hand there is no paperwork to show that it exists.

The Government of Canada website states:

There is a voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone off the B.C. coast that applies to loaded oil tankers servicing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System between Valdez, Alaska, and Puget Sound, Washington. This zone does not apply to tankers travelling to or from B.C. ports.

It is clear that it is limited. Basically, it is a particular exclusion zone, which is voluntary. That is the basis of the moratorium.

That is not good enough. It needs to be enshrined in a proper legislative process. If we are to protect future generations, then we owe it not only to residents of B.C. and our global community today but also to future generations to ensure that protection does exist.

The NDP’s call to ban oil tanker traffic through this corridor is supported by first nations, local, regional and provincial politicians, environmental groups, tourism, recreation, fishing and other potentially-affected industries, as well as over 75% of B.C. residents. Members can see that this is a huge issue in our community.

I stated at the beginning that in principle we are supporting that this bill go to committee.

However, when it does go to committee, there are many issues that we will be raising. For instance, we want to see the reversal of the Coast Guard closures, including the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, which was done in an appalling way. Basically, it was a unilateral decision to close the station despite an uproar in metro Vancouver and the fact that its closure would not serve the community well. We want to see a cancellation of the closure of B.C.’s regional office for emergency oil spills. It is unimaginable that we do not have a regional office for emergency oil spills and responders. To me that is incredible.

There are a number of issues we feel are not addressed in this bill that we will be following up on at committee. If we are to have safety on the west coast in terms of tanker traffic, this is imperative if the bill is to have any meaning at all.