Ottawa torpedoes B.C. over Nanoose Bay

There's anger in British Columbia as the federal government began procedures to expropriate a torpedo-testing facility on Vancouver Island.

This is the first time in Canadian history that Ottawa has moved to expropriate provincial land over the objections of a provincial government.

The disagreement has little to do with the torpedoes the Americans are firing and a lot to do with the dispute over salmon fishing between Canada and the U.S.

Nanoose Bay is used by both Canadian and U.S. warships. Premier Glen Clark wanted the testing range at Nanoose Bay as a bargaining lever in talks with the United States over salmon. Now Ottawa has decided to override provincial objections and proceed with the expropriation.

Clark also wanted a guarantee that no nuclear warheads would enter B.C. waters. Ottawa has now refused to give that commitment. "It was at the last minute they came back and said they couldn't agree to this, no nuclear warheads," said Clark. "Well, fair enough, but they can't come back and say we're the ones who changed the rules."

Fisheries Minister David Anderson said the government had no choice but to begin expropriation procedures because it has to keep the naval testing base open at all costs.

"The steps we are taking today are regrettable. We would have far preferred a negotiated solution and a renewed lease by that method... but that proved impossible."

Defence Minister Art Eggleton says he doesn't know why the B.C. government would try to bring a defence issue into a fishing dispute: "The matter of Nanoose Bay test range is a defence and security issue and it should not be mixed in with the issue of the Pacific salmon treaty," he says.

B.C.'s Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, Andrew Petter, offered Friday afternoon to re-open the negotiations that broke off on Wednesday. But in Ottawa, Eggleton said it's too late and the expropriation will go ahead.

The range is located in the Georgia Strait off the east coast of Vancouver Island. It has been in use since 1965, and the U.S. military has invested $164 million in the base.

The province owns the seabed. The federal government has been leasing it from B.C. for the past five years and allowing the U.S. military to use it. The lease expires Sept. 4.