[ SkipToMainMenu ]

Senator Doug Black's Bill C-48 Second Reading Speech

Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Jaffer, seconded by the Honourable Senator Cordy, for the second reading of Bill C-48, An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia’s north coast.


Hon. Douglas Black: Honourable senators, I also rise today to add my comments with respect to Bill C-48, the so-called tanker ban. I want to thank my colleagues who have spoken on this issue before me. All of them have added some real substance to give senators the thoughts they need when they’re considering how to vote.

Our job, as Senator Simons indicated in her inaugural speech, which I thought was a very powerful representation of the point of view in Alberta today, is to represent our regions. We all agree on that. Unfortunately, from my point of view, speaking on behalf of my province of Alberta, this legislation takes direct aim at the oil sands of Alberta.

The purpose of the act is to limit the development of this resource by restricting the ability to move product from Fort McMurray to markets, the most natural markets being on the northern coast of British Columbia, in Kitimat and Prince Rupert.

The legislation, in my opinion, is prejudicial and capricious. I’m not alone in that view. The Nisga’a Nation, in their letter to the Prime Minister of April 17 of last year, said:

“This tanker ban legislation is not only unique; it is arbitrary and discriminatory. This legislation damages the economic prospects of Alberta, it damages the economic prospects of Canada and as importantly, it damages economic prospects for First Nations.”

What the legislation proposes to do is prevent oil tankers from picking up products from the northern coast of British Columbia. We should note it does not affect cruise ships, which are single-hulled and carry between 1 million and 2 million gallons of oil. It does not affect container vessels, which normally carry about 4.5 million barrels of oil and are also single-hulled.

For any of you have either been on a cruise on the northern coast of British Columbia or even visited the coast, the sight of cruise ships and container ships is a regular event. No consideration was given to that. It gives no consideration to and overlooks the fact that immediately to the north end of the moratorium area is the Port of Valdez in Alaska. More on that later.

I would say there are four tankers that leave the Port of Valdez every week. Since 1977, when the Port of Valdez opened, over 20,000 tankers have left Valdez. Those tankers don’t immediately go out to the Pacific. Where the majority of those tankers from Valdez go is down the coast of British Columbia to Washington State and northern California. There are already tankers on that coast. It’s important we understand — and we’re going to talk about this in a moment or two — the improvements made since the terrible incident in Valdez 30 years ago.

This ban is not science-based. As my colleague Senator Stewart Olsen has indicated, this ban has not benefited from consultation. I would say to you that when Senator Jaffer introduced this bill, I asked her the question which was still unanswered. Perhaps someone can answer it for me today: Is there any other oil tanker ban in the world? I’ve not been able to find one. No one has been able to identify one for me.

There is nothing unusual about the northern coast of British Columbia. It is stunningly, magnificently beautiful, as is the coast of Atlantic Canada, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the coast of Nunavut, and there are no proposed oil tanker bans in respect of those areas. Have we considered banning tankers from Halifax? From Saint John? From Conception Bay? From Nunavut? From the Gulf of St. Lawrence?

The answer is no, we have not. Indeed, how would we get our 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia down the Gulf of St. Lawrence if we had a tanker ban?

Senator Jaffer did a very good job in both her comments in this chamber and in her op-ed in the Globe and Mail. The rationale put forward for the ban is the coast is beautiful — and we agree it is ravishingly beautiful — and we cannot have another Exxon Valdez. Of course we agree; the Exxon Valdez was a terrible tragedy.

But to talk about the Exxon Valdez today in the context of the industry is to say that cellphones of 30 years ago are using the same technology as cellphones today. They are not. The Exxon Valdez tragedy was 30 years ago. Since that time, dramatic changes have been made in the carriage of oil by sea.

To start, principally and most importantly, all tankers that leave Valdez and all tankers that would leave the north coast of British Columbia are double-hulled. All tankers are escorted by two tugs, one at the front of the vessel and one at the end of the vessel. All tankers are monitored by the Coast Guard’s GPS monitoring system.

There is a unique program in place in the State of Alaska whereby fishermen and those who live along the coast have been provided with resources to assist if there should be an incident. All boats are piloted out from Valdez to where they’re going or out beyond the west coast of Vancouver Island. They have learned from that terrible experience, and we will learn from that terrible experience as well.

I would also point out, because economics have to play a role here, that the carriage of oil continues from Alaska. Alaska is one of the wealthiest states in the union. They pay no income tax in Alaska, and each Alaska citizen gets, on an annual basis, a remuneration cheque from the Government of Alaska based on oil revenue. They have managed their challenges.

There are a couple of other points, senators, that I wish to leave with you as you consider your response to this bill.

First is the data on oil spills. Nobody likes oil spills and nobody wants oil spills, but you need to know — and my source here is Dr. Kenneth P. Green, Resident Scholar and Chair in Energy and Environmental Studies at the Fraser Institute — the simple fact that the number and size of oil spills have fallen dramatically over the last decades. In fact, according to Transport Canada, there has only been one major oil spill in the last 20 years off Canada’s West Coast. This is Transport Canada — only one spill in the last 20 years, and it happened when the Queen of the North ferry sank with 240 tonnes of oil. It was not an oil tanker; it was a ferry run by the Government of British Columbia. So you need to know that that happened. It’s the only one in 20 years, according to the Government of Canada. If that had been an oil tanker, had been double-hulled and had the precautions I’ve already indicated as existing in Alaska, it’s unlikely that would have happened.

My colleague also informed this chamber of the opposition that First Nations have to this ban. My research tells me that the chief’s council, which represents over 30 communities engaged in the First Nations-led Eagle Spirit Energy corridor, are opposed to the ban, as is the Lax Kw’alaams; the Gwich’in Nation; Aboriginal Equity Partners, which represents 31 First Nations chiefs and Metis leaders; as is Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd.; and as is the Nisga’a Lisims Government. These are the very nations that stand to benefit from economic development in northern British Columbia and that are being denied that opportunity.

I referred earlier, honourable senators, to a letter provided to the Prime Minister of Canada by the Nisga’a Lisims Government dated April 4, 2017, directed to the Prime Minister. It has been provided to me by the nation. I’m going to quote from the conclusion, and I’d be happy to provide this to anyone who is interested. The conclusion reads:

We —

— being the signatory of the letter, who is Eva Clayton, the president of the government —

— have attempted on many occasions since the November 29 announcement to persuade Minister Garneau and your Cabinet colleagues to continue with the process of consultation on this immensely important initiative and to preserve the opportunity for the Nisga’a Nation, coastal First Nations and local communities to work with your government to build a strong economy on the north coast without compromising the environment, our culture or way of life. But at no time since the November announcement have we been given the slightest indication that your government is prepared to pursue consultations or to continue the dialogue that we commenced last summer.

We regret that on this issue that has such immense implications to the Nisga’a Nation and to all Canadians, your government appears poised to proceed —

— without further consultation with them.

. . . your government will be slamming the economic development door shut for the Nisga’a Nation and the First Nations on the north coast —

— of British Columbia.

Honourable senators, I just cannot think that is a desirable goal.

Indeed, the federal Government of Canada, in its response to a call for input from the Government of British Columbia — B.C. called it their Intentions Paper for Engagement: Activities Related to Spill Management, the Government of Canada filed a brief. The summary points of the brief from the Government of Canada to the Government of British Columbia are, one, the Government of Canada says it has invested heavily over the last number of years in better understanding oil spills and the behaviour of diluted bitumen in water.

Importantly, two, federal research has found that “diluted bitumen behaves similarly to conventional crude oils” in the unlikely event of a spill. That is an important point, because it is widely suggested that diluted bitumen, which is the product from the oil sands, behaves differently in water and is less likely to be cleaned up. The Government of Canada is saying, “No, that’s not the case.”

Finally, the Government of Canada tells us that the marine spill prevention regime has been highly effective in responding to any marine pollution incidents in all regions of Canada. The Government of Canada itself is saying that we should not be concerned about our ability in the unlikely but terrible chance of any kind of spill.

So I would say to you, senators, when you consider how to vote on this matter that this ban is not based in science. I think there’s no adequate consultation. I think others share that view, including the very people who should be consulted.

There is no other oil tanker ban in the world. When you strip away all the rhetoric and all the disguises, this is legislation aimed at capping the ability of product from Canada’s oil sands to safely and responsibly get to markets.

I urge you, senators, to consider these points when you decide how to vote on this legislation. Thanks very much.

Link to Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

"The legislation, in my opinion, is prejudicial and capricious. I’m not alone in that view." - Senator Doug Black
"...this ban is not based in science. I think there’s no adequate consultation. I think others share that view, including the very people who should be consulted." - Senator Doug Black

Listen to the Speech Audio from the Senate Chamber

"There is no other oil tanker ban in the world. When you strip away all the rhetoric and all the disguises, this is legislation aimed at capping the ability of product from Canada’s oil sands to safely and responsibly get to markets." - Senator Doug Black