Canada's Original Think Tank

Second reading of 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

Second reading of 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

Second reading of 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

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer moved second reading of 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.

She said: Honourable senators, I am proud to rise today as a senator of British Columbia and as sponsor of Bill C-48, the oil tanker moratorium act.

This bill is about our environment. Bill C-48 is an important piece of environmental legislation meant to protect British Columbia’s waters. To accomplish this, the bill will enshrine a long-standing crude oil tanker moratorium on the pristine northern coast of my home province, entrench environmental measures that are already long in practice, and implement measures to mitigate the risk and potential scale of oil spills in a very special ecosystem.

On one hand, Bill C-48 is an affirmation of our collective responsibility as stewards of British Columbia’s ecologically rich and relatively untouched coastal environment, with its kelp forests, salmon runs, resident orcas and Kermode bears.

On the other hand, Bill C-48 also recognizes the economic imperative of the small communities of coastal British Columbia, many of which have no road access, who depend on the marine shipment of goods, including petroleum products necessary to heat homes and run businesses. For that reason, the provisions of this bill will also ensure that these communities are able to function after the moratorium is put in place.

To illustrate this balance, I would like to generally describe what this bill does. The oil tanker moratorium act will prohibit oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude and persistent oils as cargo from stopping, loading or unloading at ports or marine installations in northern British Columbia.

Vessels carrying less than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude or persistent oil will be allowed to travel to northern communities that depend on that cargo for home heating fuel and other petroleum products.

The moratorium area extends from the Canada-U.S. border in the north to the point on British Columbia’s mainland that is across from the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The area also includes the area of Haida Gwaii.

This bill is a key element of the Government of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan. The Oceans Protection Plan is a Canadian strategy to demonstrate world leadership in ensuring marine safety, protecting coastlines, and ensuring clean water while providing economic opportunities for Canadians.

Let me repeat that this bill serves to complement the existing voluntary tanker exclusion zone.

Because of the voluntary tanker exclusion zone, since 1985 loaded oil tankers servicing the Trans-Alaska pipeline system have had to pass west of the moratorium zone, hundreds of kilometres west of Haida Gwaii and far from the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Bill C-48’s proposals are also consistent with the 1972 federal government policy decision to impose a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic and provide additional protection for B.C.’s northern coastline around Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound.

In other words, Bill C-48 will entrench and unify these older policies in our laws so that anyone entering our waters can understand them. This is a key element of the Government of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan. Canada’s strategy to demonstrate world leadership in ensuring marine safety, protecting coastlines, and ensuring clean water, while providing economic opportunities for Canadians.

In order to ensure compliance with these measures, Bill C-48 also proposes strict penalties for its contravention. Those who violate the moratorium by carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of persistent oil or an oil that persists in the environment as cargo within the zone could be fined up to $5 million.

Honourable senators, let me now address some of the specific elements of the bill.

These restrictions apply to crude oil and persistent oil products, which are known for being the heaviest and for persisting the longest after a spill, as their name indicates.

Each of the oils listed in the bill were identified using an internationally recognized method used by the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds. This test categorized each oil type according to their boiling-point range, an internationally recognized measure which will be familiar to people working in the shipping industry.

These oils which will be banned include: partially upgraded bitumen, synthetic crude oil, slack wax, pitch and bunker C fuel.

Unlike lighter petroleum products, such as gasoline or jet fuel, which eventually evaporate or are broken down in the ocean by microbes, the heaviest components of some oils can persist in the environment for many years. They float, disperse, sink or wash up on shore. The heaviest components of oils do not evaporate or disintegrate.

With that said, the moratorium bill does not represent a total ban. These fuels will be allowed to be shipped in quantities below 12,500 metric tonnes to resupply the coastal communities in the moratorium area that depends upon these shipments.

To better help these coastal communities, several non-persistent oils or oils that dissipate more quickly through evaporation such as gasoline, light diesel oil and kerosene were also exempted from the ban.

Honourable senators, there is a very important reason that these particular oils have been chosen for the moratorium. We all remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, with its heartbreaking and unforgettable scenes of 1,200 miles of shoreline coated in thick black, persistent oil.

The damage this spill caused was catastrophic. According to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, outright deaths from the spill included approximately 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, and up to 22 orcas and billions of salmon and herring eggs.

Even after a decade, when the oil seemed to have disappeared, tests on ducks and sea otters showed exposure to hydrocarbons, the chemical compounds contained in crude oil. Even today, the estimated amount of remaining crude oil remains in the thousands of gallons of oil.

This is not surprising when one considers that the industry standard for an oil spill response is only 10 per cent cleanup of the oil. Further, in the case of raw, unrefined bitumen, a diluent is used to help it flow. This diluent evaporates quickly but poses dangers to first responders to the spill who would be exposed to toxic fumes.

Sheila Malcolmson, MP in the other place, spoke eloquently about the slow response times to oil spills. In her region on the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island, in the event of an oil spill, the corporate entity responsible has up to 72 hours to get to the spill with booms.

In her remarks, Ms. Malcolmson also pointed out many facts to support the need for an oil tanker moratorium.

First, shipping oil is a dangerous thing to do, especially through the rough waters off the coast of British Columbia. There are swift currents and tides. Rough waters contribute to the risk of a spill and make cleanup of a spill all the more difficult.

The Royal Society of Canada, Polaris and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine all agree it is not clear, with a spill in marine waters, how long bitumen will float, especially with rough water and sediment.

Honourable senators, much is at stake. The damage from oil spills has lasting effects. For example, spilled oil could contaminate shellfish beds and, consequently, the animals that eat the shellfish.

The damage doesn’t stop there. An oil spill affects First Nations communities whose culture and economy depend on a healthy, pristine ocean.

While preventing oil spills is clearly the best approach to environmental protection, in the event of a spill, quick action is imperative. In the remote north coast of British Columbia, the area to be protected by Bill C-48, there is simply not the capacity to respond quickly in the event of a potential oil spill.

That is why Bill C-48 is so important. It would mitigate the risk of a spill in one of Canada’s most sensitive ecosystems along its most fragile coastline by keeping oil tankers with loaded holds a certain distance, up to 130 kilometres, away from the shoreline. This zone was determined by calculating the worst drift possible for a disabled oil tanker with a loaded hold and the time it would take for help to arrive.

With Bill C-48, we will always be able to respond to a crisis and save precious heritage.

Honourable senators, I would like to stress exactly what we are protecting when we put this moratorium in place. In committee proceedings in the other place, they heard from a variety of witnesses who spoke at length about the animals and the people of this remarkable ecosystem.

For example, Misty MacDuffee, a biologist and program director with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Wild Salmon Program, captured the precious natural value of the area. She told the committee the following:

. . . British Columbia’s north and central coast, along with Haida Gwaii, comprise a unique environment that is increasingly uncommon not just in Canada but in the world. It is . . . where lush forests and granite buttresses greet the sea, where grizzlies dig for clams in sight of the open Pacific, where wolves swim to distant islands in pursuit of seals, where the ethereal calls of killer whales are used to pursue salmon migrating thousands of kilometres to freshwater rivers of a forest, and where the summer sun sets on the blows of feeding humpback whales that are surrounded by thousands of shearwaters, auklets, and gulls, all in pursuit of tiny fish that spawn on a sandy shore or on the giant kelps that buffer the fragile coast shoreline.

This is what Bill C-48 is trying to save when it takes steps to prevent catastrophic oil spills in the area. These spills would severely damage this incredibly productive ecosystem and kill many of the creatures Canadians not only value for their own sake but also see as iconic emblems of Canada’s wilderness and, indeed, as part of our national identity.

In addition to safeguarding the food chain, a benefit of the moratorium bill that may not be immediately obvious is the limit on underwater noise from large ships, which can significantly disturb the lives of marine mammals. These waters are a fragile ecosystem for some of the most majestic mammals, including the resident killer whale population, an endangered species that is now reduced to under 75 remaining whales in the area. Killer whales have in fact been endangered since the 1980s with no sign of recovery on the horizon, and acoustic disturbances from vessel noise is a key threat to their recovery.

The whole social network of whales relies on their ability to communicate back and forth; underwater noise interferes with their ability to hunt, navigate and call out to one another. It is for this reason that noise produced by vessels contributes to the slowing of reproduction.

Humans have allowed this majestic species to become endangered. I, however, truly believe humans and whales can share the ocean. It is our job to protect this species for one reason alone: because we cherish them. Simply put, the ocean is full of life and is our sustenance. Thus it is our duty to protect species that humans have endangered.

In British Columbia, wild salmon are an iconic species. The waters off British Columbia’s north coast are a significant salmon migration route, with millions of salmon coming from the more than 650 streams and rivers along the coast. The impacts of a single oil spill would be devastating.

We enjoy eating this delicious and nutritious salmon. Salmon have helped make and sustain the temperate rain forest. Salmon support First Nations communities and coastal communities and are an integral part of our West Coast economy. Salmon is British Columbian food.

Salmon also supports a booming fishing industry in British Columbia. A commercial fishery on the north coast catches over $100 million worth of fish annually. Over 2,500 residents along B.C.’s north coast work in the fishery, and the processing industry employs thousands more.

In addition to its economic importance, salmon is integral to the cultures of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. For the Indigenous people of this area, salmon is both an essential food and a strong spiritual symbol that is central to their traditions and culture.

The West Coast wilderness tourism industry is now estimated to be worth over $782 million annually, employing some 26,000 people full time and roughly 40,000 people in total.

The beauty of this coastal region and the abundance of salmon have made it a world-renowned destination for ecotourism, creating jobs and opportunities for economic growth. The shoreline is dotted with sports fishing lodges, as enthusiasts flock to experience the natural marine environment and take part in the world-famous fishery.

This legislated crude oil tanker ban will help protect the temperate rain forest and marine conservation parks. These two protected areas have incredible biological diversity and should be protected. They contain many species of concern, like iconic killer whales, grizzly bear, bald eagles and Pacific salmon. Honourable senators, we simply cannot afford to lose them.

Honourable senators, I say to you that we must protect this amazing heritage that we Canadians have for our children, grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. Bill C-48 protects these ecosystems in a way that will not interfere with resupply activities that are so important for communities and industry along this coast. Once in force, the moratorium will prohibit oil tankers from entering or departing ports and marine installations in northern B.C. It will also prohibit transfers to ensure large tankers don’t offload products to small fuel barges making multiple trips to ports.

By finding the right balance between environmental protection and community and industry resupply, the government will ensure that shipping companies continue to employ workers from these communities. These jobs are important to individuals working on these ships and the economies of their communities and beyond.

However, while community and industry resupply would be allowed to continue, tanker activity would be strictly limited. Large tankers carrying crude oil or persistent oils in quantities over 12,500 metric tonnes would not be allowed to do business in the moratorium’s area.

These strong measures reflect the views of many Indigenous people who helped shape Bill C-48 and who continue to act as the stewards of the lands and waters of B.C.’s northern coast and of the wildlife that relies on these generous and sensitive habitats for survival. In addition to acting as stewards of this natural world, many Indigenous individuals and communities rely on the waterways covered by the proposed moratorium for their livelihood, food security, transportation and cultural lives.

The proposed moratorium demonstrates that a clean environment and a strong economy are mutually compatible. It is an example of sustainable development at its best.

Honourable senators, I would again emphasize the special value of my province’s northern coast. This factor should be at the heart of our deliberations on Bill C-48. Those persons most passionate and eloquent on the topic are those who live sustainably as part of this environment, and I would again quote committee proceedings in the other place of Mr. Modestus Nobels, Interim Chair of Friends of Wild Salmon, who said the following:

For those of us who live on the north coast, it is an extremely important place. We rely heavily on the resources within the region for economic, recreational, and personal use. We have for years feared an oil spill and the repercussions of that in terms of how our lives would fold out. I don’t know how to equate for you the value that exists there for us. We have lived on that piece of land for a long time. Many of my neighbours are from First Nations who have been there for centuries. We all rely upon the ocean there. We all rely upon the resources. Those resources are, to us, more important than the other industries that have been brought to us as economies. The economy we wish to see in the region is that of fish, of forestry, and of an ocean that we can rely upon for tourism for generations to come.

Honourable senators, I find no better way to end than with that quote. I know we have a lot of work to do, but I humbly ask you to consider this bill and have it become law before the summer, as it’s important for my province of British Columbia. Thank you very much.

Hon. David Tkachuk: Could I ask a question?

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Jaffer, would you take a question?

Senator Jaffer: Yes.

Senator Tkachuk: Senator Jaffer, how many tankers of the prohibited size of 12,500 tonnes would go by the northern coast every day?

Senator Jaffer: Senator, that’s a very good question. I can’t give you the answer because I don’t know. As you know, there is a Voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone, so I have no idea of how many tankers there are. They don’t go by this coast, in fact, because there’s an exclusion zone.

What exists in practice at the moment is being brought in as law. So I don’t think any tankers go close to the area that I’m speaking of, but the minister will be at committee and I know he will better be able to answer that question.

Senator Tkachuk: I have another question then. How many tanker accidents have there been off the northern coast that this bill applies to over the last 30 years?

Senator Jaffer: I’m very happy to say there haven’t been any, and I hope there won’t be because we know what happened with Exxon Valdez. People in that region are still paying the price. We are being proactive in preventing tanker accidents to preserve our environment.

Senator Tkachuk: I have one more question. Are there any plans to prohibit tanker traffic on the eastern coast, say in Nova Scotia or any of the Maritime provinces?

Senator Jaffer: Again, senator, the minister will be at committee and we can ask him these questions. In my study of this bill, I understand there are no plans to prohibit tanker traffic on the East Coast.

Hon. Douglas Black: Following on from Senator Tkachuk, Senator Jaffer, could you confirm that if this bill should pass, and if there should be a moratorium, as is proposed in the legislation, that it would apply from the north of Port Hardy — therefore, the Port of Vancouver is not captured by this — and, of course, it would not apply, as Senator Tkachuk has referred, to either Atlantic Canada or the St. Lawrence River? So this would be the only moratorium on oil in Canada. Can you confirm that?

Senator Jaffer: Yes.

Senator D. Black: Thank you. Could you also confirm, Senator Jaffer, that this would be the only moratorium on shipping on the high seas of oil in the world?

Senator Jaffer: That I don’t know.

Senator D. Black: Thank you.