'A stampede of stupid': Rachel Notley urges Senate to block oil tanker ban bill

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley continued her crusade today against federal legislation she says unfairly singles out her province by banning oil tankers from docking along the B.C. north coast — and threatens national unity in the process.

Alberta premier tells senators Bill C-48 is 'divisive' and undermines national unity

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley makes an announcement in Calgary on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Notley has urged senators to kill Bill C-48. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley took her crusade against the Trudeau government's tanker ban bill to the Senate today, telling senators the legislation unfairly targets her province by banning oil tankers from docking along B.C.'s north coast at time when the oilpatch is already on the ropes.

Speaking to members of the Senate's transport committee Tuesday, Notley said Ottawa is playing a dangerous game by banning oil tankers from the region and described the bill as more of an "Alberta ban."

"After all, Bill C-48 still lets massive LNG tankers travel those same waters. It's not really a tanker ban at all. It's a ban on energy resources produced in Alberta, by Canadians, from getting overseas," Notley said.

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"It is a policy that is very divisive," said Notley. "It's the kind of policy that represents little more than a stampede of stupid. Ultimately, what you're going to do is hurt our country and that sense of unity — those are the stakes."

The bill in question would ban tankers capable of carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of oil from an area that stretches from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border.

The legislation formalizes a similar, voluntary ban that has been in place in the region for the last 20 years.

B.C. Indigenous peoples are split on the bill, with coastal First Nations more supportive than those in the interior who stand to gain economically from any sort of pipeline running through their lands.

Coastal First Nations have said a spill would threaten the viability of a diverse fishing industry that sustains well over 1,000 jobs in the area.

With Bill C-48, the Liberal government has sought to block projects like the now-defunct Northern Gateway project — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet killed that project on the day they first approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway was a proposed $8 billion project meant to carry diluted bitumen produced in Alberta's oilsands to Kitimat.

'Don't block us. Back us. Toss C-48': Notley

The federal Liberals are pushing for passage of C-48 just as Alberta is grappling with a series of problems plaguing its energy industry — a decline in investment, historically low commodity prices and constrained pipeline capacity. As Premier Notley reminded senators today, the legislation has stirred up considerable anger in the province.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended his tanker ban in part by pointing to the unspoiled nature of B.C.'s Great Bear rainforest. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"I am a little worried that much of what we value as Canadians is at risk. Albertans are not actually the biggest fans of Ottawa these days. That's the G-rated way to put it," she said. "If you want to know why, one of the things we could do is look no further than C-48.

"Don't block us. Back us. Toss C-48 in the garbage where it belongs."

The Senate Conservatives have steadfastly opposed the legislation at every turn, but the Independent Senators Group (ISG), a caucus composed largely of Trudeau appointees which now constitutes a majority in the upper house, are divided.

Trudeau has defended the legislation by saying that B.C.'s Great Bear rainforest is simply too pristine for a crude oil pipeline like Northern Gateway or the Indigenous-backed Eagle Spirit, a $16 billion pipeline project proposal that would carry heavy crude from Fort McMurray to the Grassy Point port near Prince Rupert, B.C.

That argument was echoed in a statement from Delphine Denis, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who said Tuesday the bill presents "a balanced approach that will allow job-creating projects in our energy sector to move forward, while also protecting the incredible environment that coastal and Indigenous communities call home."

"The creation of this legislation was not taken lightly or impulsively, and responds directly to the call and advocacy of the local coastal Indigenous communities," Denis said. "Bill C-48 demonstrates our government's firm belief that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand."

Notley said Tuesday there is no crude tanker ban on Canada's east coast, which has areas of its own that are pristine and known for their natural beauty. The Hibernia operation in Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, produces tens of thousands of barrels of oil each year. Tankers carrying foreign oil travel the St. Lawrence Seaway every day to deliver product to refineries in Quebec.

While demanding that C-48 be scrapped entirely, Notley said another controversial piece of Liberal legislation — Bill C-69, which seeks to overhaul the environmental assessment process — can be salvaged if Ottawa makes necessary amendments.

An oil tanker anchors at the terminus to the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. TMX's shallow port can’t accommodate modern supertankers. (Chris Corday/CBC)

"I think that we've presented a pretty easy path for the federal government to do the right thing so I hope they take that path," Notley said. "I'm hopeful that we're going to see that result, ultimately."

Another Senate body, the Red Chamber's energy committee, is studying Bill C-69 and is currently on the road meeting with people in Western Canada. Senators were greeted by protesters in Calgary Tuesday who urged the committee to overhaul the legislation to avoid devastating Canada's oil sector.

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John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.


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