Controversial tanker ban Bill C-48 rejected by Senate committee — but it isn’t dead in the water

Controversial tanker ban Bill C-48 rejected by Senate committee — but it isn’t dead in the water
A federal ban on tanker traffic off British Columbia’s north coast has been defeated in a Senate committee, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead in the water.

On a 6-6 vote, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications recommended not to proceed with the controversial Bill C-48 .

The federal Liberals’ bill, otherwise known as the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, would ban tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude or persistent oil from stopping or unloading along B.C.’s northern coast.

Bill C-48 would put into a law a longstanding voluntary moratorium on coastal tanker traffic between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the Alaska border, which is meant to protect delicate marine environments from potential spills.

More precisely, the bill would forbid tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of oil from loading or unloading in the exclusion zone, either directly at ports or by using other ships as intermediaries.

Senator Doug Black tweeted Wednesday evening that the development was “a good day for Alberta and for Canada.”

This is a good day for Alberta and for Canada. The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications has recommended not to proceed with Bill #C48 . Time has come to sink this bill. #TRCM #SenCA #cdnpoli #abpoli #ableg

The bill has been fiercely opposed by Alberta politicians. Late last month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told the senate committee the bill represents a serious threat to the Alberta and Canada’s economic interests and that it should be dropped.

“We believe it must be scrapped,” Kenney said at the time. Kenney also threatened to launch a constitutional challenge against the legislation if it moves forward.

Kenney and his predecessor, former NDP premier Rachel Notley, have argued Bill C-48 presents a threat to Alberta’s ability to get its oil to markets outside the U.S.

“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 LNG tankers,” a statement from the Alberta NDP party said.

“We can’t build a national economy on double standards like this.”

Kenney tweeted his reaction to the recommendation on Wednesday evening.

“Very pleased that the Senate Transport Committee has voted to defeat the Trudeau Tanker Ban Bill C-48,” the premier tweeted. “This is a victory for common sense & economic growth.

“Thank-you to senators for listening to Albertans & respecting fairness in our federation!”

Very pleased that the Senate Transport Committee has voted to defeat the Trudeau Tanker Ban Bill C-48. This is a victory for common sense & economic growth. Thank-you to Senators for listening to Albertans & respecting fairness in our federation!

The committee voted 6-6 to to reject recommending the bill. Because of the tie vote, the recommendation failed.

Alberta independent senator Paula Simons voted against it, along with five Conservative senators. Five other independents and one self-identified Liberal voted in favour.

“I agree that the sensitive coastal areas of northern B.C. deserve and demand environmental protection,” Simons tweeted. “I didn’t think C-48 did the job – but I was looking for middle ground.

“I didn’t find it.”

Simons said late in the debate that she wasn’t confident that enough homework had been done to justify a permanent ban — that the bill would lock in a temporary measure based on limited research more than 40 years ago.

“I felt it was important as an Albertan, as a member on this committee, to come here with goodwill, to work towards amendments that would somehow strike a compromise where we could both protect one of Canada’s most extraordinary ecosystems while simultaneously not slamming the door in the face of the people of Alberta,” Simons said.

She might have backed a temporary legal restriction on tankers to allow further research, she said, but couldn’t support the bill as it stood.

Since there seems to be a fair bit of confusion, let me try to explain what happened tonight at our Transport meeting on C-48. (A thread….)

Along with Bill C-69, which is meant to reform the federal assessment process for national-scale construction projects and is also in the Senate, Bill C-48 has enraged many backers of the Canadian oil industry.

Conservatives in the Senate said voting down the bill is a win for Canada’s energy industry, leaving open the possibility of exporting Canadian oil from northern B.C. ports.

The now-aborted Northern Gateway pipeline project, for instance, would have carried Alberta oil to Kitimat, B.C., in the no-tanker zone.

“This bill would only make the issue of landlocked Canadian oil worse,” said a statement from Sen. Larry Smith, the Conservative leader in the Senate.

The statement pointed out that Bill C-48 would forbid the transfer of oil onto or off ships in northern B.C. but wouldn’t stop tankers from passing through the area, impeding Canadian oil but not outlawing tanker traffic from Alaska.

Despite the recommendation, the bill is not dead yet. The Senate still must vote on the bill.

The legislation has already passed in the House of Commons but not in the Senate.

Simons called her vote “a tough decision” but said she believes the bill will be reintroduced for third reading, at which point she will try to add more amendments to it.

Several B.C. First Nations leaders have said if the bill is not approved, their sensitive marine-based economies could be at risk.
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