British Columbia

First Nations divided on impacts of tanker ban at Northern B.C. Senate hearings

A Senate committee on transportation and communication holding public hearings in Northern B.C. this week heard competing arguments from First Nations about the impacts of a tanker ban. 

Indigenous leaders for and against a tanker ban cite environmental and economic concerns

Bill C-48 — the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act — would prohibit oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of certain types of oil from stopping or unloading at ports on B.C.'s North Coast. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A Senate committee on transportation and communication holding public hearings in Northern B.C. this week heard competing arguments from First Nations about the impacts of a tanker ban. 

Bill C-48—the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act—would prohibit oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of certain types of oil from stopping or unloading at ports on the North Coast, from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. 

The bill, which has already received approval in principal in the House of Commons, resulted in the scrapping of the previously approved Northern Gateway Pipeline, fulfilling a Liberal election promise. 

It is now before the Senate. 

Chief Clifford White, hereditary leader of the Gitxaala Nation, is in favor of the tanker ban, saying the environmental dangers of an oil spill are not worth the risk. 

"For us, it's kind of like David and Goliath," said White at the Prince Rupert hearing.

"The provinces that are in oil, they're fighting against the Coastal First Nations. We want to make sure that our territory remains very pristine."

However, the  Lax Kw'alaams Band near Prince Rupert told the committee it doesn't want to curtail future economic benefits.

John Helin, the band's elected leader, spoke about the economic difficulties his community is facing and how much a moratorium on certain types of oil tankers would limit future development.

Helin claimed Bill C-48 is being imposed on B.C. without proper consultation by the federal government. 

The First Nations leader is also vice-president of the Eagle Spirit pipeline — a proposed alternative to the Northern Gateway Pipeline that would ship oil from northern Alberta to Pirnce Rupert, B.C., which he says has the approval of 35 First Nations.

Helin says his stance is not a conflict, despite his connection to the pipeline project. 

"Anybody that knows me and my counsel [knows] every meeting I attend, I attend on behalf of the band."

John Helin, the elected leader of the Lax Kw'alaams Band near Prince Rupert, spoke at a Bill C-48 hearing about the economic difficulties his community is facing (Duncan McCue/CBC)

Division 

SkeenaBulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen said he won five elections in a row on an anti-tanker platform. He says that is the stance many northwest B.C. residents have taken. 

"Let's just get this done so we can move on and start creating green energy and a more sustainable fishery and get our fish stocks back." Cullen told Carolina de Ryk, host ofDaybreak North. 

Senator David Tkachuk, chair of the committee holding the hearings, says it is important to get oil in and out of ports, even if there is risk of spills.

"We all have a responsibility to to ensure that the coast is environmentally protected. But we also know that in everything you do, there's risk," said Tkachuk.

The last set of public hearings will be in Alberta and Saskatchewan, ending in early May.

The Senate will then review the bill and either approve or make amendments to it and send it back to the House of Commons for final approval.

Listen to the full story here:

Members of the senate transport and communications committee attended two public hearings in Prince Rupert and Terrace on Bill C-48. If passed, that bill would ban oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of oil from docking off the northern coast of British Columbia. Village leaders, residents and industry testified about the impacts such a ban would have on the area. 7:55

With files by Daybreak North and Betsy Trumpener.