Edmonton

'Holds us hostage': Kenney urges Senate committee to strike down oil tanker ban

A Senate committee is being asked to kill or at least amend the federal government's bill to ban tankers off the British Columbia coast.

Bill C-48 up for discussion at public hearing in Edmonton

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. (Chris Corday/CBC)

A Senate committee is being asked to kill or at least amend the federal government's bill to ban tankers off the British Columbia coast.

The committee on transport and communications is hearing from Albertans — including the new premier — during public hearings in Edmonton on Bill C-48.

The bill would prohibit oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil in waters between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the Alaska border.

The legislation passed in the House of Commons last spring and is being debated in the Senate.

    Newly minted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney pleaded with the committee to scrap the bill. If it passes in its current form, he said the province will launch a constitutional challenge against Bill C-48.

    "It harms Alberta's economy because it holds us hostage against our own economic prosperity," Kenney said in his opening remarks.

    He said the bill is the result of foreign-funded interest groups trying to landlock Canadian energy.

    "Why have these organizations inspired the federal government to bring this legislation forward? Because they identify Canada as the weakling, as the pushover, as the kid in the schoolyard easiest to bully," he said.

    "They knew full well that they could not reduce increases in U.S oil production, Venezuelan, Saudi, Qatari, Iranian or Russian energy production or shipments."

    It can't be salvaged. It's political. It's not about safety.- Sonya Savage, Energy Minister

    Kenney said the bill could create a chasm between the province and the federal government.

    He was accompanied by the province's new Energy Minister, Sonya Savage. She said the bill is discriminatory both in the geographic zone and products it applies to.

    "It's aimed specifically at landlocking Alberta resources," Savage told reporters after the hearing.

    "It can't be salvaged. It's political. It's not about safety."

    Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage prepare Tuesday to speak before a senate committee about Bill C-48. (Anna McMillan/CBC)

    Alberta Senator Paula Simons says she's conflicted about the bill after hearing testimony from First Nations leaders in B.C. and Alberta who have different aspects of their livelihoods at stake.

    "On one hand we've been to [B.C.] and we've heard very powerful evidence and testimony from particularly First Nations and fisherpeople who are desperate to protect their really beautiful territory from pollution," said Simons.

    "On the other hand, I am an Alberta Senator and I'm not sure that the [federal] government has made a scientific case for a ban that is this extensive."'

    On Tuesday morning, senators heard from Mayor Don Scott of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Chief Craig Makinaw of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, who both expressed concerns with the bill.

      Scott said it's divisive and would threaten national unity. 

      "It should never become law," he said Tuesday morning.

      Fear mongering

      Makinaw said there's a perception that all First Nations are against oil and gas development.

      "There's a lot of misinformation and fear mongering," Makinaw said.

      Senators asked whether they were consulted about the tanker ban and both said they hadn't been.

      Makinaw said he's simply asking for a reasonable solution. 

      "Don't pick winners and losers," he said. "Let's find a way forward where we can all benefit."

      Scott added that the bill would fundamentally undermine the community of Fort McMurray and the oilsands.

      Al Reid, executive vice president with Calgary-based Cenovus Energy Inc., testified that the bill would hurt the oil industry. 

      "To be truly internationally competitive, we need the economies of scale that come from access to northern B.C.'s deep water ports," he said.

      "Unfortunately, Bill C-48 offers no pathway to reasonable compromise. It simply closes the door to Alberta's primary export.

      "We can do better than this legislation, which should be at a minimum allowing for regulated, safe oil shipping corridors."

      Senator Paula Simons, who is from Edmonton, said she's conflicted by the bill.

      "On the one hand, we've been to Prince Rupert, we've been to Terrace, we've heard very emotional and powerful evidence and testimony from particularly First Nations and fisherpeople there who are desperate to protect their really beautiful territory," she said.

      "On the other hand, I am an Alberta senator and I am not sure that the government has made a scientific case for a ban that is this extensive."

      Academics who addressed the committee said it will be difficult for the federal government to come up with a win-win.

      'Yes or no'

      "It's pretty blunt on what it is — it's banning oil exports off the northwest coast of B.C., so I don't think there's a political in-between there," said Andrew Leach, an associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta. "Maybe a little bit of softening on the different refined products.

      "At the end of the day, it's pretty stark. It's almost a yes or no. It's a short bill. There's not much to it."

      The committee heard earlier this month from outgoing NDP premier Rachel Notley, who urged the Senate to toss the bill "in the garbage."

      She said the proposed law is discriminatory because it wouldn't be able to stop international tanker traffic, but would impede Alberta's efforts to get oil to new markets.

      Notley added that it's a double standard given that Ottawa supports the liquefied natural gas industry, tankers on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Newfoundland's Hibernia oil project.

      "Let's show Canadians that 90,000 jobs in downtown Calgary are just as important as 90,000 jobs in downtown Montreal," Notley said April 9 via video link from Calgary to senators in Ottawa.

      "Don't block us, back us," she added.

      -With files from the CBC's Anna McMillan

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