WITH the new federal Liberal government now in place, northwestern B.C. NDP MP Nathan Cullen says he’ll be pressing it to follow through on an election commitment to legislate a ban on oil tanker traffic on the north coast.
One of his first tasks is to prepare an information package for environment and climate change minister Katherine McKenna to get her up to speed on Cullen’s position on tankers and to impress upon her the need to get the ban bill passed as soon as possible.
Both the Liberals and the NDP have supported a tanker ban with Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray introducing a private members’s bill in 2010 following a motion by Cullen, and then Cullen in 2014 submitting a private member’s bill of his own to the House of Commons.
Now that the Liberals are in power, Cullen expects the new government to introduce a bill similar to both previous versions, neither of which ever received support from the then-Conservative government.
“The solution is very well-known, it’s not that there is an enormous amount of research or consultation that needs to be done, their own policy is their campaign commitment,” said Cullen. “Enacting it would not be difficult and obviously with a majority and our support, such an enactment would pass through parliament very easily.”
Once the new parliament begins work in Ottawa on Dec. 3, Cullen says he hopes to have the opportunity to nudge the government during question period, however he can’t say exactly when he will have this opportunity considering Justin Trudeau has promised to change how question period operates.
“I don’t want to make a promise and find out we get one question a week,” said Cullen.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a tanker ban plan a key part of his west coast promises, saying he would “formalize the moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s north coast – including the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound – and ensure that ecologically sensitive areas and local economies are protected from the devastating impacts of a spill.”
The moratorium would take in the length of the coast from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border, commonly referred to as the Great Bear Rainforest.
Cullen said Trudeau was so adamant about legislating a ban it will be politically impossible to back out.
“I am not sure he has a choice,” said Cullen.
“This was an important election, and B.C. returned a majority of MPs who are supportive of a north coast tanker ban, so chip chop,” he added.
But while a moratorium is certainly in the cards, there are important details to be finalized such as the area in which it might apply and what types of oil products in particular will be banned.
“So much will depend on the details of the moratorium,” said Cullen.
“Mr. Trudeau repeatedly said in British Columbia that if he were prime minister then [the] Enbridge [Northern Gateway oil pipeline] would not go ahead. That’s specific to that project. The larger question he talked about was the legal moratorium on B.C.’s coast. I can tell you, as someone who has crafted legislation, that details matter, how you put it together matters.”
The definitions that both Liberal MP Murray and Cullen used in their respective private member’s bills said that the definition of oil that would be banned from being transported in tankers included “crude petroleum” and “any other hydrocarbons, except coal and gas.”
Murray’s 2010 bill made a single exception and that was for smaller vessels carrying fuel to local communities on the coast.
Cullen said his plan for a tanker ban would not apply to the liquefied natural gas industry, and Trudeau also appeared to lean that way during his campaign.
Cullen said his private member’s bill was designed largely to stop the Enbridge Northern Gateway project from going through and that other projects aiming to export refined fuels would still be able to apply for a federal environmental review.
“Some of the companies came to us afterwords and said can we work under this [Bill] and their people felt that they could and I said that this is a conversation for when you actually make an application, is what is it you are moving and how do we define it, which is why you need an application before you can judge a project,” said Cullen.
Cullen says he wasn’t sure that the Trudeau government has made a distinction yet between refined fuel and crude or diluted bitumen.
In terms of the wording in his own bill, Cullen said its drafters in their definitions “left room for interpretation” adding that “my focus was certainly around Northern Gateway.”
The other part of Trudeau’s promise about energy projects is to make changes to the National Energy Board which examines large-scale energy projects.
He said in his platform literature that he would ensure that “its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields like environmental science, community development, and indigenous traditional knowledge.”
Proposals for the export of refined fuels from north coast ports include Eagle Spirit Energy and Kitimat Clean (whose proponent, David Black, also owns Black Press, which owns The Terrace Standard and other northwestern newspapers).