British Columbia

Justin Trudeau announces $1.5B ocean protection plan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a $1.5-billion ocean protection plan for responding to tanker and fuel spills in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. This follows a fuel spill from a sunken tug on the B.C. coast last month and proposed marine traffic increases if pipeline projects are approved.

PM calls fuel spill near Bella Bella 'unacceptable' after tug ran aground, spilling 100,000 litres of fuel

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces the $1.5-billion ocean protection plan as Minister of Transport Marc Garneau listens, at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver on Monday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government's $1.5-billion ocean protection plan in Vancouver today for responses to tanker and fuel spills in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Trudeau said the funding over five years will include creating a marine safety system, restoring marine ecosystems and research into oil spill cleanup methods.

He called it "the most significant investment ever made to protect our oceans and coastlines."

The announcement, made with Transport Minister Marc Garneau, comes after the minister spent Sunday touring a site on B.C.'s Central Coast where the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart ran aground and sank more than three weeks ago, releasing thousands of litres of diesel and lubricants into the water.

"The ongoing incident at Bella Bella is unacceptable," said Trudeau, referring to the spill. "It's time for a change."

Spill response efforts have failed to contain an estimated 110,000 litres of diesel and other petroleum products from the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart, which ran aground Oct. 13 in the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella. (Ian McAllister)

The funding includes increased coast guard capacity, new rescue stations, tougher rules for businesses that pollute on the coasts, and Indigenous community response teams, said Trudeau.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, whose government has laid out a long list of requirements to improve spill response, said she was satisfied with the plan for dealing with current response needs.

"We have had intensive discussions over the years with this government and the government previous to make sure they know what we need as a province," said Clark.

"I am really gratified to say that the federal response today addresses the gaps that we have identified."

Stage set for Kinder Morgan?

While the federal government's announcement was applauded by environmentalists and First Nations, that praise was overshadowed by worries the Liberals are setting the stage to approve Kinder Morgan's controversial Trans Mountain pipeline.

Trudeau's government has until Dec. 19 to render a decision on the pipeline, which would carry nearly 900,000 barrels a day of diluted oilsands bitumen from Alberta to Vancouver's harbour.

For some, improved oil spill response capacity is a signal that greater oil spill risk is on the horizon.

"We're worried that what they're doing here is setting the stage for an approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which is going to put the very habitat at risk that they're putting money into restoring," said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

"For us, it doesn't provide a social licence," said Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk First Nation, in whose traditional territory the tugboat spill happened.

"Today's announcement is all about strengthening response capacity for existing shipping traffic," said West Coast Environmental Law in a statement. "In no way … does it justify an increase in oil tankers or pipeline infrastructure that would increase tanker traffic."

Trudeau, pressed by reporters three times about approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, declined to give a direct response.

Protesters opposed to the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline held signs and chanted outside where the prime minister made his announcement. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

No tanker ban yet

The announcement also did not include a promised moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic off B.C.'s North Coast, which environmentalists have said would effectively kill the other controversial pipeline proposal, the Northern Gateway project.

Garneau promised last week the ban would come by the end of the year, and Trudeau said today they'll discuss "other measures … in coming weeks."

The NDP MP for the B.C. riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley, where Enbridge's pipeline would pass through, said "we were hoping for more."

"It gives me some concern … that they're getting the ground ready to have something maybe not as strong as what they promised in the election," said Nathan Cullen.

"If a house kept setting on fire and the government's response was to put more fire alarms in there, well, maybe we could look at why the house is catching on fire in the first place."

Trudeau listens to Capt. Bill Noon on board the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier during a tour of Vancouver harbour on Monday. (Darryl Dick/Canadian Press)

With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters