Canada Transportation Minister Marc Garneau made headlines this weekend when he announced that by the end of the year, a long-promised ban on oil tanker traffic will be put in place off the North Coast of British Columbia—weeks after the government was harshly criticized for its bungled response to a spill in that same region.
"We have heard a lot of beautiful words from the Liberal government in their first year in office, and the Heiltsuk are eager to see them become legislation as soon as possible."
—Heiltsuk Nation of Bella Bella, B.C.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to institute such a moratorium before the Liberals won a majority of votes and put Trudeau in office in 2015, but as of a mere three weeks ago Trudeau appeared to be backtracking on that promise, after months of refusing to offer a timeline on the ban.
Garneau's words were thus a welcome surprise to many environmentalists: "That is a promise that we made. It's a mandate item for me and we are going to be delivering on that," Garneau told host Chris Hall in a Saturday interview on CBC Radio.
CBC explains that the moratorium may be the final nail in the coffin of Enbridge's embattled Northern Gateway Pipeline:
Environmental groups have suggested a moratorium off B.C.'s North Coast would kill the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. The project is still recovering from a blow delivered by the Federal Court of Appeal, which overturned Enbridge's approval because it found Ottawa failed to properly consult the First Nations affected by the pipeline.
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Garneau's assertion came a week after meeting with a coalition of Indigenous groups and unions from Canada's West Coast. The meeting included Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, coordinator for the Yinka Dene Alliance, whose member First Nations' territories are located in north-central British Columbia and have long fought for a ban.
"A lasting federal ban on oil tanker traffic would be a welcome addition to the existing decision of Yinka Dene Alliance First Nations to prohibit the export of oil through our lands," said Thomas-Flurer in a statement released after the meeting. "It would also confirm what we've known for a long time: unwanted oil megaprojects like Enbridge's Northern Gateway are not crossing our territories."
"We've been asking for a legislated ban on oil tanker traffic on the north and central coast ever since the Harper government began to deny the existence of the informal ban implemented by the government of Pierre Trudeau," said Karen Wristen, executive director of B.C.'s Living Oceans Society, in the same press statement. "Hecate Strait is the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world for navigation and there is no technology that would make it a safe place for oil tankers. And when a spill happens in waters like that, there's no sense talking about cleanup—you can't even keep oil confined so that it could be cleaned up. It will just spread far and wide, oiling coastlines and the sea-bottom and killing ocean life for miles around."
Local groups are eagerly awaiting Trudeau's announcement of a ban. The coastal Heiltsuk Nation of Bella Bella, B.C., which is still suffering from the devastating diesel spill that took place off its shores last month, pointed out in a statement: "We have heard a lot of beautiful words from the Liberal government in their first year in office, and the Heiltsuk are eager to see them become legislation as soon as possible."
Many are also arguing that the moratorium should extend across all of B.C's coastline, and not only be limited to the northern region. Those arguments center around Kinder Morgan's proposed extension of a tar sands pipeline that would put its terminal in Vancouver, in the south—a plan that is widely opposed by local First Nations and conservation groups. The federal government is to issue a decision on the pipeline extensions in early December.