British Columbia·Q&A

Transport minister says Canada's spill response not world class yet

Heiltsuk First Nation, whose waters were affected by Nathan E. Stewart spill, say they want a say on what kind of ships can travel through their territory. The minister evaded questioning on that point.

But Marc Garneau says his government's plan will get Canada to that level

A sea otter swims in the area where the Nathan E. Stewart tug boat ran aground near Bella Bella, B.C. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government's $1.5-billion ocean protection plan for responses to tanker and fuel spills. (Tavish Campbell)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will have a stronger Coast Guard and more partnerships with Coastal First Nations when it comes to maritime spill responses under his government's new plan.

Trudeau made the announcement Monday in Vancouver, but the announcement comes after maritime safety has been in question after two separate incidents on the Central Coast.

The tugboat Nathan E. Stewart ran aground and sank about 28 kilometres from Bella Bella on Oct. 13, spilling approximately 110,000 litres of diesel fuel; and over the weekend a barge loaded with sand and gravel flipped over, also near Bella Bella.

"Two incidents in four weeks is too many for these coastal waters, said Heiltsuk First Nation elected councillor Jess Housty in a written release. "The Coast Guard and other marine rescue services are already stretched thin.

"It is clear that [Transport Minister Marc] Garneau and Prime Minister Trudeau's promised regulatory changes can't come soon enough."

Now that those changes have been announced, Garneau spoke with Radio West host Audrey McKinnon about what it all means for the Central Coast.

Transport Canada Minister Marc Garneau arrives in Bella Bella, B.C., Sunday, to see the impact of two marine incidents spilling diesel fuel and sand and gravel into waters in the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation. (Heiltsuk First Nation)

How will the federal government better partner with Coastal First Nations?

We're going to put along the coast of British Columbia response equipment to deal with a spill or go out and deal with a search-and-rescue event. We're also going to provide training and we're going to co-op them to be part of that effort because of the enormous contribution they will be able to make. We will need their advice because they have a great deal of advice to offer in terms of how best to deal with an incident off our coasts.

What's the timeline for all that?

As quickly as we can. The announcement by the prime minister begins in April of next year and so we're going to try and get going as rapidly as possible. The prime minister gave me a mandate a year ago to improve marine safety. So that was an acknowledgement that marine safety is not where we need it to be.

We believe that with today's announcement we are going to bring marine safety on all three of our coasts to world-class levels. Certainly we are addressing the 11 points that the British Columbia government has drawn up with regards to marine safety and response.

A Heiltsuk First Nation member sits with a sign during a visit from Transport Canada Minister Marc Garneau. Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett wants a joint management plan in which First Nations can make decisions about vessel traffic in their waters. (Heiltsuk First Nation)

Coastal First Nations have already responded to your announcement today. Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett wants a joint management plan in which First Nations are fully resourced and making decisions about vessel traffic in their waters. Will you allow first First Nations to make decisions like that?

Part of the ocean protection plan is to take account of where the sensitive waters are. Part of the importance of our coastal regions is the understanding that there are sensitive clam beds, for example, and other sensitive fish species. There are sea mammals that move along the coast of British Columbia and we have to take that into account.

When will you finalize a crude oil tanker ban on the North Coast?

Before the end of the year.

With files from CBC Radio One's Radio West

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Transport minister says Canada's spill response not world class yet