Ottawa’s new oceans protection plan is a good start, says the Haida Nation, but not if the end game is exporting heavy oil and LNG.
Standing on a Coast Guard ship in Vancouver on Nov. 7, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $1.5-billion, five-year plan to prevent and clean up fuel spills on Canada’s Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic coasts.
The plan includes leasing heavy rescue tugs; new rescue stations; better Coast Guard communications, mapping, and towing capacity; tougher polluter-pays rules; research into oil spill clean up; and new indigenous community response teams.
Trudeau called the ongoing response to a diesel spill near Bella Bella “unacceptable,” noting that nearby Heiltsuk people were first to respond.
“As recent incidents show, First Nations are always first responders, and it’s important to work together to ensure they have the resources and authorities that they need,” said Trudeau.
In a press release posted the following day, Haida Nation President Peter Lantin, kil tlaats ‘gaa, welcomed the plan as a “good beginning.”
“We have pressed hard to have the federal government wake up to our reality,” said Lantin, noting that the Haida Nation has made better progress on the file with the Trudeau Liberals than it did with the Harper Conservatives in 2014, after the cargo ship Simushir nearly ran aground on Haida Gwaii’s west coast.
“These improvements to marine safety and response bring the federal responsibilities up to a good ‘median,’” said Lantin.
“When combined with a full moratorium on tanker traffic, as the Haida Nation has proposed, and the Prime Minister promised, we may finally realize a protected coast.”
Along with coastal First Nations, Ottawa has discussed its oceans protection plan with the B.C. government, which has its own 11-item wish list for “world-leading” spill response on the B.C. coast.
The list includes three new heavy rescue tugs costing up to $50 million each, and a new $6 million Coast Guard station in Prince Rupert.
Local NDP MLA Jennifer Rice has said that without a promised North Coast ban on oil tankers, all such measures will fall short.
“The best oil response is prevention,” said Rice. “Witnessing firsthand the situation in Bella Bella, it is clear to me that it is past time for Trudeau to implement his election promise of a legislated tanker ban.”
Speaking after Trudeau’s announcement, local NDP MP Nathan Cullen noted that nearly half the $1.5-billion oceans plan won’t kick in until the next federal election is over.
Cullen also noted that the plan comes about a month before the Trudeau cabinet decides on approving the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, which B.C. Premier Christy Clark had opposed for lack of spill-response capabilities.
“Christy Clark happily signed off on the plan, but that was pushing an open door,” said Cullen.
“She was looking for a number of years now for a way to say ‘yes’ to Kinder Morgan.”