B.C. government moves forward with public consultations on oil spill response following trade war scare

In its bid to protect B.C.'s coastal waters, the provincial government is looking for feedback from the public about regulations to improve overall oil spill readiness.

'Waste of time,' says Independent Contractors and Businesses Association

Past spills in B.C. have highlighted the challenges and complications associated with environmental cleanups. ( Chris Corday/CBC)

In its bid to protect B.C.'s coastal waters, the provincial government is looking for feedback from the public about regulations to improve overall oil spill readiness.

 "We need to make sure British Columbians have their voices heard on the next steps in protecting our environment," said Environment Minister George Heyman.

This is phase two of the B.C. government's move to create more regulations to improve spill readiness. The province is looking for feedback in four policy areas:

  • Response times, which ensure timely responses following a spill.
  • Geographic response plans, which ensure resources are available to support an immediate response, taking into account the unique characteristics of a given sensitive area.
  • Compensation for loss of public use from spills, including economic, cultural and recreational impacts.
  • Maximizing application of regulations to marine spills.

Initially, the B.C. government had five areas that it was asking the public to weigh in on, but since the Alberta government imposed a boycott on B.C. wine that it later dropped, the fifth item — "restrictions on the increase of diluted bitumen transportation" has been removed from the list. 

B.C. Premier John Horgan said his government is turning to the courts on the question of whether it could implement a temporary ban on increased exports of bitumen from Alberta.

'Alberta is right on this'

But those from the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, say the consultation process is a lost cause.

"We think it's a waste of time, money and energy by the government, as this is all ground that's been covered over and over again in the past," said Jordan Bateman, a spokesperson for the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

Ottawa gave the green light to expand Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline in 2016. The National Energy Board recommended its construction if 157 conditions are met, including 49 environmental requirements.

The ICBA represents about 40,000 employees in the construction industry and other businesses. It is a third-party provider of group health and retirement benefits in B.C. and the largest sponsor of apprentices in the province.

Bateman says he's glad the B.C. government took point five ("restrictions on the increase of diluted bitumen transportation") off it's list of items for public input.

"Point five widely exceeded their jurisdictional powers and flouted the rule of law in Canada. As hard as it is for some of us in British Columbia to admit, Alberta is right on this," Bateman said.

Environment Minister George Heyman speaks to reporters Wednesday about B.C. opening up its spill response strategy to public input. (CBC)

At a news conference Wednesday, Environment Minister George Heyman told a crowd that the regulations in question are not specifically about the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan pipeline.

"If you are asking me about Kinder Morgan, we thought the approval process was wrong and that's why we intervened in the federal court to say it should be set aside," Heyman said.

 "If the court rules that the process was, as we believe, wrong, then we will have a chance to design a process in which  British Columbians can have confidence," he added.

The public is invited to provide online input on the four policy areas by completing a questionnaire during the consultation process, which runs from Feb. 28 to April 30, 2018.

 An independent scientific advisory panel will be established at a later date.

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