Government announces details of $1.5B plan to protect coasts, encourage trade

The federal government released details today of its plan to sink $1.5 billion into Canada's ocean coastlines in a bid to protect killer whales and guard against oil spills, as well as encourage more efficient marine trade routes.

Goals of Oceans Protection Plan include protecting orcas and mitigating damage of oil spills

Protecting marine wildlife is one of the goals of the federal government's new Oceans Protection Plan. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

The federal government released details today of its plan to sink at least $1.5 billion into Canada's ocean coastlines in a bid to protect killer whales, guard against oil spills and enable trade.

The Oceans Protection Plan "is the largest investment ever made to to protect Canada's coasts and waterways," Transport Canada said in a release.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau told reporters and shipping industry representatives that the program would be implemented over the next five years.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced the plan in November 2016 following an accident off British Columbia's central coast that released thousands of litres of diesel into the water near the town of Bella Bella.

Ship traffic on the Pacific coastline is expected to increase if the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is constructed.

The plan will focus on improving marine trade routes by getting goods to and from shipping docks without delays, Garneau stressed. 

"Where are the biggest bottlenecks to the flow of goods in this country? — that's the purpose of [the fund]," he said.

Noise reduction for whales

A chunk of the plan's budget will document risks to marine life, including the endangered orca on the West Coast and North Atlantic right whales and belugas on the East Coast.

More than $167 million has been set aside to develop regulations in tandem with coastal communities and scientists.

Reducing underwater noise pollution from passing cruise liners and tankers was cited by officials as an important way to support whale populations.

Marine scientists called on Trudeau last year to regulate "acoustic smog" from ocean traffic that stresses whales and contributes to population decline.

The funding addressed a "societal question," Garneau said. 

"How important are these iconic species to Canada? I think the answer is, it's very, very important."

Preparing for oil spills

Aqua-Guard Spill Response Inc., a Vancouver-based manufacturer, was awarded a $1.2-million contract to outfit the Canadian Coast Guard with portable skimmers to be used in the event of an bitumen spill or similar emergency.

The Haida and Gitga'at Nations, which will host the first marine information pilot projects and work with federal officials to develop protection strategies and regulations, welcomed today's announcement.

"The basis for us even going down this road was a near miss with a Russian cargo ship a few years ago," said Haida Nation president Peter Landin, referencing a diesel-laden boat that came close to crashing into the Haida Gwaii coast in 2014.

"We'll be aware of all shipping traffic in near real-time, be able to make informed decisions if there is a crisis or accident and better plan for the future, such as keeping vessels well offshore," said Landin, who also goes by the Haida name, kil tlaats 'gaa. 

Members of the Haida First Nation want to preserve protected areas, and say the plan's information system will help. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Landin stressed the high volume of marine traffic near the island, and said the plan's proposed "marine awareness information system" — a nexus of location data from boats, weather and current forecasts, and protected-area warnings — could prevent a disaster.

"The Exxon Valdez [spill] is still fresh in our minds and feelings," he said.

Concerns about enabling international trade on ocean routes, one of the Oceans Protection Plan's pillars, are overshadowed by the community's urgent need for data, Landin said.

"The alternative is to do nothing. We're not rooting this in pipelines or oil and gas," Landin said. "We had to start somewhere. This is a positive project for us — where it leads to is tomorrow's battle."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Oceans Protection Plan would be implemented over the next 11 years. It will, in fact, be implemented over the next five years.
    Mar 20, 2018 10:25 AM ET