Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair and esteemed members of the committee, I am pleased to be here with you again today to speak about a third bill that advances my mandate priorities.
I'm sure I hardly need to remind you that we Canadians enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Among the many beautiful places in our country, the stretch of rainforest along British Columbia's northern coast is unique. There is nothing quite like it. The thought of this pristine ecosystem being fouled by oil pollution is simply intolerable.
That is why I am here today to speak to the proposed legislation intended to preserve and protect these coastal areas—namely, Bill . I'm happy to outline the rationale for Bill C-48, the oil tanker moratorium act. The comprehensive measures of the proposed legislation are the result of extensive consultations with Canadians. While there continue to be differing perspectives, what we did hear loud and clear is that the transport of both crude oil and persistent oils by sea should be prohibited near the pristine coasts of northern B.C.
The proposed moratorium would cover all ports and marine installations in the area encompassing northen B.C. and extending from our border with Alaska in the north down to B.C.'s mainland adjacent to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Tankers with more than 12,500 tonnes of crude or persistent oil as cargo would be prohibited from stopping, loading, or unloading at ports or marine installations in this area.
The definition of crude oil in the proposed legislation is based on the one in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, which is familiar to the shipping industry. Persistent oils are heavier and stickier. Because of this, they tend to break up and dissipate more slowly, and if they are spilled, they are more likely to cling to birds, wildlife, and shorelines. Examples of persistent oils in the moratorium schedule include partially upgraded bitumen and synthetic crude oil. We may consider changes to the list of targeted goods if a review of the scientific evidence and innovations in the transportation of oil or cleanup technology show that changes are justified. The safety of the environment will always be the main consideration, and any changes would have to be made through a regulatory amendment.
We recognize that many communities in the area of the proposed moratorium are not accessible by road or rail and depend on oil to be brought in by ship. To ensure the resupply of these communities and their industries, this act would allow individual shipments of less than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil to continue.
To reinforce how seriously we take this matter, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act also includes reporting requirements and strict penalties for violations.
All tankers capable of carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of oil would be required to report on the cargo they are carrying, or picking up, within the moratorium area. This information would have to be submitted 24 hours before the tanker calls at a port or marine installation.
I want to reassure shippers that the reporting burden would be kept to a minimum, because we are aligning the new requirements with existing reporting processes.
The only additional requirement for shippers would be to report the specific type of oil they are carrying and the amount of oil that would be loaded or unloaded at a port or marine installation in northern B.C.
With respect to enforcement, Transport Canada already has marine inspectors who enforce existing marine legislation. These inspectors would enforce the proposed Oil Tanker Moratorium Act to ensure compliance.
The powers these inspectors would have under this act would be similar to the authorities they have under existing marine legislation such as the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.
Inspectors would have the authority to board an oil tanker and take samples, or conduct tests, to verify compliance with the act. If a marine inspector had reasonable grounds to believe the law had been violated, the oil tanker could be detained.
Again, I want to emphasize that the safety of the environment is our top priority in advancing this legislation. Lest anyone doubt that, let me note that we would support this moratorium with an enforcement regime that could result in fines for violators of up to $5 million.
These strong measures against potential oil pollution are what Canadians want and expect.
Canadians helped us set the parameters of the oil tanker moratorium act. In 2016, I undertook an extensive series of engagement sessions, and met with stakeholders with clear views on a proposed moratorium. I talked to coastal and inland indigenous groups. I also met with environmental organizations, marine and resource industries, and representatives of affected communities. I met with colleagues from provincial and municipal governments as well. People across Canada logged on to our website to comment on the proposed oil tanker moratorium. I listened to their views on improving marine safety in Canada and formalizing an oil tanker moratorium.
It's clear that Canadians share certain goals—to keep our economy strong and protect the environment. We understand that marine safety is a precondition to sustainable economic development.
Madam Chair, this legislation complements our government's larger national strategy to promote marine safety and coastal protection under the $1.5-billion oceans protection plan, which we announced in November 2016. As part of this plan, we are investing in new prevention and response measures, based on the latest oil spill cleanup science and technology.
Madam Chair, and members of the committee, this legislation is long overdue. Canadians have been asking for this for years. Fortunately, it is not too late. Once passed by Parliament, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act will provide an unprecedented level of environmental protection for British Columbia's north coast.
The oil tanker moratorium will allow us to preserve this precious ecosystem for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations. We have an opportunity now to accomplish something of historic importance. And we should grasp that opportunity.
And so I urge this committee, and my fellow parliamentarians, to support this bill.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would now be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I thank you, Minister, for joining us today, and your departmental officials. We appreciate your taking the time.
Minister, in your mandate letter, the instructed you to formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia's north coast, working in collaboration with the , the , and the to develop an approach.
Given that you received this mandate letter on the heels of your appointment, I'm wondering if you could explain to the committee what exactly you were consulting on, since you already had been instructed to formalize this moratorium.
We took everybody's testimony as being an important contribution to our determination of how we would implement this proposed legislation. It meant that we were going to meet with, first of all, the peoples who live along that coast and who, in many cases, have been there for millennia.
We started with indigenous coastal communities: the Nisga’a, the Metlakatla, the Lax Kw’alaams, the Haisla, the Haida, and the Heiltsuk. We did extensive consultations with those who live there and who have the most at stake, if I can put it that way.
We also met with the shipping industry, because the shipping industry obviously has a very strong presence on the west coast of Canada. We also met with environmental groups, which have very strong views on the issue of a moratorium. We engaged also with government officials at the municipal level—such as those from the City of Prince Rupert, which is in the middle of this area—and provincially as well.
We were very engaged with everybody, and everybody's input was considered to be important.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here this afternoon.
Minister, since 1985 there has been a voluntary tanker exclusion zone, the TEZ, in place along British Columbia's coast. The TEZ ensures that loaded tankers carrying oil from Valdez, Alaska, to U.S. west coast ports transit west of the TEZ boundary to protect the shoreline. Therefore, Bill will simply be formalizing the status quo with respect to what's been occurring in that area. This has existed since 1985 and has not had any discernible negative impacts on international marine trade.
Here's my first question. In your opinion and that of the consulted stakeholders who you've spent a lot of time with, including first nations, will the moratorium provide an important added level of protection to measures already in place?
Minister, during the 2015 federal election, there was a commitment to formalize an oil tanker moratorium on British Columbia's north coast, one of the most pristine, biodiverse habitats in the world, which will provide a high level of coastal protection around the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and the Queen Charlotte Sound.
In November 2016 announced a $1.5-billion oceans protection plan that would improve oil spill responses on the B.C. coast and create a world-leading maritime safety system. This bill also penalizes violations and puts into place penalties that could reach up to $5 million.
In your opinion, is this going far enough or can it go further in the future?
When one looks at coastal, maritime nations, you'll see that the oceans protection plan—which includes over 50 measures and is a $1.5-billion plan—takes us to a world-leading level in terms of what it does, in terms of committing to infrastructure to not only monitor our maritime areas but also to be able to respond much more quickly if something were to happen.
It also sets new standards in many areas. For example, we are going to be spending money—I announced it a week ago—on improving our hydrographic services so that we better understand what's under the water in order to make sure we're not going to have collisions, because some of our charts are old.
It involves first nations in a way that has never been done. It's something first nations wanted to be involved with, and something they are very good at. They're often the first responders, and it's something that of course they have a huge stake in because they live along the coast. It will be addressing the issue of abandoned and derelict vessels. Some of those elements are coming out at the moment. It also will continue to work on science. When all of that is taken into account, we will have a world-leading system.
The north coast, however, doesn't have all the infrastructure that the south coast does—or the east coast, or the St. Lawrence—and it is a particularly sensitive area. That is why we are putting the moratorium in place and overlaying on that the oceans protection plan.
Thank you, Minister. I applaud the intention of the bill, especially knowing that it's designed to protect the incredible biodiversity of the Great Bear Rainforest region, Gwaii Haanas. There's a long-term New Democrat private member's bill, among others, so we're really glad to see it coming forward.
A concern, though, is that Bill doesn't do anything to prevent the kind of disaster we saw a year ago in Heiltsuk territory, the Nathan E. Stewart barge spill, because it specifically excludes refined oil products from the ban.
Even if they were included, the 12,500-tonne threshold is high enough to allow them to pass through some of B.C.'s most sensitive waters. Disasters like the Nathan E. Stewart show that we need better regulation and enhanced investments in spill prevention and response in the region.
My question is two-fold. First, why should large petroleum tanker barges be excluded from the bill, given the risks that we know already exist in the region? Second, is there a scientific case to exclude refined oil products from this legislation?
There are a number of facets to your question. There is a schedule of forbidden fuels, the ones we call persistent oils. On the other hand, certain lighter fuels such as naphtha kerosene, aviation gasoline, or LNG are not excluded from this.
There needs to be traffic along the coast because of the resupply that I mentioned in my last answer. The question is, how much? What capacity should they be able to carry to do their resupply along this 400-kilometre coast?
The Nathan E. Stewart incident pinpointed very clearly why we need to have an oceans protection plan. I couldn't agree with you more that we definitely needed to take action. I went up to Bella Bella, and I met with the Heiltsuk. I have been in contact with Chief Slett on a number of occasions. That unfortunate incident highlighted the need for us to put in place measures that would allow us, ideally, to prevent this kind of incident from occurring, or if it did occur, to respond very quickly.
We will be taking extremely seriously the recommendations to the Transportation Safety Board, which is currently completing its investigation of this unfortunate event.
I am also hearing a broad concern that the exemption, which is in subclause 6(1) of the bill, allows you as the minister to exempt identified oil tankers from the ban, by order, on any terms and for any period of time. Some of the NGOs have called this a loophole so big you could drive an oil tanker through it.
Subclause 6(2) says that the Statutory Instruments Act does not apply to such exemption orders. This removes the requirement that such exemption orders would be published, transparent, and made easily available for public examination.
We're concerned that although the act broadly has great intentions, this could effectively gut the purpose of the oil tanker moratorium act.
Why is that broad ministerial power necessary, given that the bill already provides clear exemptions for distress and vessels under the control of the Minister of National Defence? Why are the ministerial exemption orders excluded from the application of the Statutory Instruments Act, which would give more transparency?
The Liberal Party made this decision, and in fact, it was in our election platform. If you go back to 1985, it was under a Liberal government that the exclusion zone was brought in because of Liberal pressure at that time.
There's been a recognition for a very long time that this pristine part of Canada's west coast needs to be protected. That was the reason for it. The purpose was not to prevent development. In fact, we, as a government, as you know, understand, for example, that the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan would like to get their products to tidewater, and we did approve the TMX pipeline, with a number of conditions, which is a fairly normal matter. We have also approved other pipelines, and we support the Keystone as well, which would get them to southern tidewater. It was not to prevent, specifically, the building of pipelines to tidewater, because we support that. We have put in place the oceans protection plan to complement that economic and environmental side of development.
It was to preserve, hopefully for posterity, this very pristine area, where an incident as small, compared to a tanker, as the Nathan E. Stewart can have very important effects on the local communities there, as I had the chance to witness myself.
You can't eliminate risk completely. We did not get unanimous consent from all groups we consulted with. It is very difficult to obtain unanimous consent from all groups that are involved, but we did get significant, and I would say clearly majority support, for putting this moratorium in place. Our job was to put it in place in the most intelligent manner possible.
To shift gears for a moment, when you were describing the unique ecosystem of the coast in question and the pristine nature of it, I couldn't help but think of a certain part of my own riding off the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, which has hundreds of wild islands that have been untouched, have unique species that can't be found anywhere else in the world, and the local communities have come together to try to build a very impressive tourism initiative for the world to enjoy that coastline. I invite you to come and join me any time you're available.
There's not a similar protection for other different pristine ecosystems. The tanker traffic on the east coast is almost three times the number of vessels, although perhaps not the same volume, most of which land in Saint John, Come By Chance, or importantly for this part of the region, Port Hawkesbury. Do you feel that the measures outlined in the oceans protection plan will offer the protection we need both from a preventive point of view and from a spill-response point of view, God forbid it ever happens, to these other pristine ecosystems like the wild islands on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia?
If a company were to get access to a port along the north coast, and if it were to perhaps send in the pipeline an unrefined product but then refine it before putting it in a ship, and if that product were not on the schedule of persistent oils, then from the moratorium point of view, it would be possible for it to have tanker traffic from that port.
Obviously, in getting it from, let's say, Alberta to the coast and building the refinery, there are other environmental evaluations that have to be done that come under Environment Canada and other ministries, but if those were satisfied, and the product that was put in a ship was a lighter, non-scheduled hydrocarbon, then that would not violate the moratorium.
I have to say that I reject the premise of your comment. We think that it's important for Canada to have the capability of selling our natural resources, including oil, to other countries because of the demand. That is why the TMX was approved with conditions. That is why we support the Keystone. That is why we also approved the Line 3, going from Alberta to the northern United States.
These, I think, are very clear indications that we want to allow the economic development of this resource within the parameters we gave ourselves for the pan-Canadian framework in the Paris accord, and there is every expectation that we will be able to satisfy that.
We are, in fact, in favour of that, but we're also a government that believes that you must and you can balance the environmental side of the equation as well. We've said this, of course, repeatedly in the House of Commons, and we have taken measures. We think it's a very sensible thing for us to have the moratorium, have the OPP, and continue to be supportive of Alberta and Saskatchewan's oil industry.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to our officials for being here.
I know governments like to.... It's the nature of politics to take credit for stuff, especially if they're attempting to do the right thing.
I'd say a lot of the success.... It's been a 40-year conversation in the northwest of British Columbia, when the first pipeline was proposed and the first tankers were then considered on the north coast, realizing the particular and tricky nature of sailing a supertanker through the Douglas Channel. The minister and I have spoken a lot about that.
I'm wondering about a couple of things. I'll also give credit to the government for introducing the bill. My credit mostly rests with the people who, in some cases, spent the last 40 years struggling for this. Does the precautionary principle rest within this legislation in any formal or informal way?
When we were going through the National Energy Board hearings around northern gateway, which was the example that was most discussed—whether there should be a tanker ban now—one of the challenges that people had in the northwest, in the area I represent, was in trying to establish the qualities of the products proposed to be moving through the pipeline. Diluted bitumen was a relatively recent actor on the stage within the Canadian petroleum industry as a large mover of volume.
When we were questioning federal officials, both from your department and from the fisheries department, as to the nature of diluted bitumen and how much was understood about how it reacted in fresh water, salt water, did it sink, did it float...? These are of course incredibly important things to know when trying to determine how you would clean something up if there were ever a spill, especially for a place like the northwest of British Columbia where the value of the rivers, the ocean, is paramount—culturally, economically, socially.
Do we now have established evidence within the department as to the qualities of bitumen, how it weathers over time, and what is recoverable in the event of a spill either in fresh water or salt water?
That seems like a “yes” to me.
What scientific studies have the department, or Environment Canada, or NGO environmental groups done to weigh out the environmental risks? Are there any evidence-based, scientific studies to say that, if we have a terrible spill of 318,000 metric tons of light diesel oil versus 12,500 of any of the other ones prescribed in your bill...?
Is there scientific evidence that we can look at that says the devastation is 10 out of 10 for one, and the other, for example, is two out of 10? What studies are out there for that? I think that probably should have been done, or it should have been based on one. Is there an answer for that one?
Let's attach a “how” to that, and how we can do that.
The minister, as I'm sure you recognize, is now embarking on a transportation strategy for the entire country, and with that has established trade corridors or a process that is going to establish and recommend those trade corridors nationally.
Do you think it would be prudent, upon that process, to then—I won't say force, I'll just say facilitate—facilitate a dialogue among Prince Rupert, Vancouver, and other ports on the west coast, a process that would otherwise identify strengthened areas for added economy when it comes to who should be doing what versus relying on them to do it? You know just as well as I do, competition is competition is competition.
With that, would it be prudent for us through that process—through the establishment of that strategy—to actually facilitate that so we can get that economic balance across the west coast?
Is everybody okay that we continue on for 15 more minutes so that we can have a discussion, as well as adopt the budget?
You have another half a minute if you have another question. You're all right? Okay.
To the witnesses, thank you very much for being here. You can slip out if you like, and we will deal with some of the committee discussion that we need to deal with.
We have a budget before you for the beginning of this study. We may have to come back for additional funds, but this is what we're putting forth now, a request for $37,300. Are there any questions or comments?
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: In these few minutes that we have, I believe Ms. Block wanted to make a suggestion.