British Columbia

Pressure ramping up for feds, province to ensure world class spill response

Nearly two weeks after a diesel spill on the coast near Bella Bella, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan has asked the federal government to 'immediately establish strategic spill response capacity for our coast to prevent future damage to our sensitive marine environment.

Provincial and federal NDP demanding improvement to response following grounding of Nathan E. Stewart

The Nathan E. Stewart had an estimated 200,000 litres of diesel on board when it ran aground. (Heiltsuk Nation/Tavish Campbell and April Bencze)

Nearly two weeks after a diesel spill on the B.C. coast near Bella Bella, B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan has asked the federal government to "immediately establish strategic spill response capacity for our coast to prevent future damage to our sensitive marine environment."

Horgan has sent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a letter detailing his concern the spill is still not cleaned up and that it took 22 hours for the Coast Guard to arrive on site.

"It strikes me that the failure of the federal and provincial government is to do more than just talk about world-class spill response, you have to do something about it," said Horgan.

"We have been talking about this for five years and we have made no progress. I think the time for talking is over, and we need some action from both levels of government."

Horgan visited the area on Friday to see the spill area first hand. The Nathan E. Stewart started to spill diesel on October 13, after the heavy tug ran aground pulling an empty fuel barge.

Federal responsibility

The federal government has the jurisdictional authority over Canada's coastline, including oil spill response.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark blasted the federal government the day after the spill for not responding fast enough.

"We need an increased coast guard presence and B.C. has been cheated by the federal government when they have been spending money on coast guard on the East Coast," said Clark at the time.

But the argument Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver are making is that the provincial government should be responsible for working with the federal government to ensure Canada's Coast Guard is as ready as it needs to be to protect B.C.'s coast.

"How can we possibly think we are on path for a world-class spill response when we have a small tug carrying thankfully an empty barge," said Weaver.

"I have no confidence in either the provincial or federal government to deal with a spill on our coast."

Compensation for clam farmers

First Nations on B.C.'s Central Coast are also worried about the damage that has been done to clam beds near where the boat ran aground. Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen is calling for immediate federal action to cover the lost income of those working in the commercial clam harvest.

"We are just asking for basic decency and common sense really," said Cullen. "It has really hit the Heiltsuk people in their traditional fishing grounds ... So we are asking for compensation for that to keep families whole over the wintertime."

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has closed the shellfish fishery near Bella Bella almost entirely due to contamination from the diesel spill. 

The tug and barge are owned by U.S. company Kirby Offshore Marine