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Alberta opponents of B.C. oil tanker ban denounce Senate vote keeping bill alive

Opponents in Alberta to the federal Liberal government’s bill to ban oil tanker traffic in northern B.C. waters are denouncing the Senate’s decision to keep the proposed legislation alive despite a committee report that recommended C-48 be scrapped.

'I urge the Senate to reconsider the negative impact this bill will have on national unity,' says Kenney

An oil tanker anchors at the terminus to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. The Senate voted Thursday to allow Bill C-48, the oil tanker traffic ban in northern B.C. waters, to go to a third reading. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Opponents in Alberta to the federal Liberal government's bill to ban oil tanker traffic in northern B.C. waters are denouncing the Senate's decision to keep the proposed legislation alive despite a committee report that recommended C-48 be scrapped.

In a vote on Thursday night, the Senate decided by a margin of 53-38 — with one abstention — to reject the Conservative-written committee report and allow the bill to proceed to third reading in the Senate, during which amendments can be proposed.

The head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) issued a statement Friday reiterating his group's opposition to the bill, calling it bad legislation that unfairly targets Canadian energy.

"Bill C-48 has the potential to permanently block Canada from exporting its responsibly produced natural resources to growing international markets, preventing us from helping to displace global greenhouse gas emissions and lift other nations out of energy poverty," CAPP CEO Tim McMillan said.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney pledged to launch an immediate constitutional challenge if Bill C-48 is passed.

"I urge the Senate to reconsider the negative impact this bill will have on national unity at debate on third reading," he said in a statement.

Kenney says the legislation only targets one product, Alberta bitumen, and does not restrict oil tanker shipments elsewhere on Canada's coastlines.

A number of independent senators are opposed to C-48 but still voted against the report because they felt it was too partisan and inflammatory.

Chance to make amendments

The report has a sharp, partisan flavour, including an assertion that the bill is "not as advertised" — the same tag line Conservatives use in a series of ads attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

They also want a chance to propose amendments to the bill. Some independent senators have signalled their support for changes that would, among other things, allow for a shipping corridor through the restricted area.

Others would like to change the permanent nature of the ban on oil tankers, allowing it to be lifted after a certain period of time or under certain circumstances.

There has been a voluntary moratorium on tankers off B.C.'s northern coast since 1985.

If the Senate approves amendments, the bill would have to return to the House of Commons, where the government would decide whether to accept, reject or modify the changes. Senators would then have to decide whether to insist on their changes or defer to the elected chamber.

Will Garneau accept changes? 

Conservative senators contend there's no point trying to amend the bill because Transport Minister Marc Garneau has already indicated he won't accept changes.

But Sen. Peter Harder, the government's representative in the upper house, has pointed out that while Garneau has ruled out allowing a restricted shipping corridor, he has been more open to other potential changes.

Other senators have noted that Garneau has accepted amendments to other transport bills, even after initially saying he would not.

The Senate also passed Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, late Thursday with more than 180 amendments.

The legislation overhauling Canada's assessment of major energy projects is back in the hands of Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

With files from The Canadian Press

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