Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP and former B.C. provincial environment minister Joyce Murray was in Nanaimo Wednesday to drum up support from Vancouver Island's civic leaders to ban oil tankers from B.C.'s north coast.
Murray tabled Bill C-606 in December and the House of Commons approved its policy in principal with a 143-138 vote with all opposition parties voting in favour while the Conservative Party opposed it. The bill will be debated further in the House next week.
The legislation would formalize a voluntary moratorium on oil tankers in inland waters around Haida Gwaii including Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, that was implemented in 1972 by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Murray, who visited with a number of Island municipal representatives Thursday and Friday, said she felt with pressure mounting to bring oil tanker traffic into the area, now is the time to formalize the moratorium into legislation.
"The banning of tanker traffic in the inland waters of the north coast was the policy of the (Liberal) government and it was respected by Conservative governments since," said Murray. " So the reason for my bill, I felt it was important to formalize that policy that has been around for 40 years because it has been contested by (this) Conservative government."
Enbridge Corporation has proposed a $5.5-billion, 1,100 kilometre oil pipeline that would connect Alberta's tar sands with a supertanker port in Kitimat that would bring 225 supertankers, some as large as three football fields in length, to B.C. northern coastal waters annually.
The bill does not include tankers carrying condensate, a form of natural gas, or local boat traffic used to deliver oil to coastal communities.
"Condensate would evaporate so it wouldn't have the same horrible, gooey destructive impact that crude oil does," she said.
Currently, foreign oil tankers respect the moratorium and don't come within 40 to 138 kilometres of the designated areas depending on location. The bitumen would be destined for American and Asian ports and refineries.
Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan, who listened to Murray with Couns. Fred Pattje and Diana Johnstone, said he undersands the concerns.
"I think she has legitimate concerns," said Ruttan, adding he stopped short of providing a letter of support Monday because so few councillors were able to make the meeting. "I think everyone remembers the Exxon Valdez and the disaster that followed for the wildlife and the environment and I think everyone is conscious of that and not eager to see a repeat of that unfortunate accident anywhere along the coast."
Supertankers today can carry up to eight times the capacity of the Exxon Valdez. Murray said 56,000 jobs along the province's north coast rely on a healthy environment and the added risk of oil supertankers and the jobs they would provide, about 560 in her estimate, would not be worth the risk.
Having seen the devastation on wetlands and bayous near New Orleans after British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon well exploded last April, Murray said she was inspired to protect B.C.'s coast from a similar disaster by creating the bill.
"This bill is a direct response to being in New Orleans and seeing the damage after the well blew out two weeks later. We were taken on a tour of wetlands and bayou area before the oil. You could see impact on jobs and generations of people after the oil arrived."
B.C. also has a moratorium on drilling in the same region. Currently, oil is piped from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver for export.
Murray said despite anticipated increases in supertanker traffic on the south coast, the waters and weather are less dangerous and a board of directors made up of port city mayors addresses safety concerns. There is no such board in the northern communities. She also said there is plenty of pipeline capacity now and for several years to come.
An estimated 80 per cent of British Columbians are in favour of protecting the north coast from oil supertanker traffic. If the bill passes, it would ultimately scuttle Enbridge's pipeline proposal.