The Trudeau government’s ban on oil tanker traffic off the north coast of British Columbia, Bill C-48, was defeated Wednesday evening on a 6-6 vote of the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee. It now goes to the full chamber for further debate.
The bill, which would ban tankers from docking along the north coast, was opposed by five Conservative senators on the committee and Alberta independent Paula Simons. It earned the support of five other independents and one Liberal.
“Bill C-48 would prohibit tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of oil from docking along an area that stretches from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border, which would do away with projects like the now-defunct Northern Gateway or Indigenous-led Eagle Spirit pipelines,” CBC News explains. “Its initial passage in the House of Commons was celebrated by environmentalists, who said it would help keep the coast and its diverse fishing industry safe from spills. But it’s faced criticism from industry, First Nations, and provincial leaders, who worried it could critically harm Canada’s oil exports.”
Simons, who cast the deciding vote against amending or advancing the measure, “said she felt it was her duty as an Alberta senator to vote against it in its current form,” CBC reports.
“I am very aware of how extraordinarily beautiful and sensitive that particular ecosystem is and I very much want to see it protected,” Simons said. “But Bill C-48 was not going to give that strip of land and sea the protection it rightly deserved.”
At the same time, she added, “it was going to so severely prejudice Alberta’s energy industry that in good conscience as an Alberta senator, I could not vote in favour of the bill unamended.”
“Rest assured, I didn’t vote this way because I was pressured by industry or by online trolls or by Conservatives in the Senate. You should know me well enough to know I am not cowed by peer pressure—or digital bullies,” she added on Twitter. “I looked at the facts and the evidence. I weighed all the passionate and knowledgeable witness testimony. I agonized for days. And finally, I voted my conscience, knowing I wouldn’t please my critics, on either end of the debate.”
The vote certainly pleased Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. “This is a victory for common sense and economic growth,” he tweeted. “Thank you to Senators for listening to Albertans and respecting fairness in our federation.”
“The flawed legislation completely ignored decades of safe shipping in waters off the northern B.C. coast, and it wasn’t even a real ban, as it exempted massive [liquefied natural gas] tankers,” added Alberta NDP environment critic Irfan Sabir. Former premier Rachel Notley had previously called the bill a “stampede of stupid” that unfairly targeted her province.
Simons, who said the Wednesday night result was “very rare” but “not unprecedented”, was sanguine about the bill’s prospects before the full gathering of senators. “So the Senate can accept our report and not proceed with the bill, or, what is more likely, the Senate will bring the bill back,” she said, in which case she’ll propose multiple amendments—which Transport Minister Marc Garneau says he’s open to considering.
“Garneau did not rule out accepting amendments from committee members—including a proposal that would demand a mandatory review of the ban every three, five, and 10 years and a proposed change that would tie the bill’s enactment to completing the Trans Mountain expansion project,” CBC reported earlier in the week. “As written, the legislation bans the vast majority of crude oil shipments from the region indefinitely.”
“We will receive any amendment that is proposed by the Senate and look at it very, very carefully,” Garneau said. “However, let’s not lose sight of an opportunity we have here to lock in an unprecedented level of protection for one of the world’s most unique and biodiverse ecosystems, and to protect one of Canada’s most pristine and wild places. I think that is something we can all take pride in.”Sierra Club BC is out with a campaign urging its supporters to contact senators before the final vote and demand they “keep oil tankers out of the Great Bear Rainforest.” The organization warns that “oil lobbyists are in overdrive trying to pressure the Senate to kill Bill C-48. They’re pulling out all the stops, and senators are contemplating ludicrous amendments, such as a corridor for oil tankers that would completely undermine the ability of this Act to protect the coast from oil spills. There’s a big chance this legislation will die forever if it doesn’t get passed in the next few weeks. Senators will be voting on it very soon.”