OTTAWA — A Senate committee says the Trudeau government’s bill to ban oil tanker traffic off British Columbia’s northern coast should be scrapped because it will divide the country, inflame separatist sentiment in Alberta and stoke resentment of Indigenous Peoples.
That conclusion is contained in a Conservative-written report of the Senate’s transportation and communications committee on Bill C-48. But the sharp partisan tone of the report appears to have backfired, angering even some independent senators opposed to the bill but who are now urging their colleagues to reject the report.
If senators vote to accept the report, that would immediately kill the bill. If they reject the report, the bill would proceed to third reading debate, where all senators would have a chance to propose amendments and decide whether the bill should live or die.
The committee last month passed a motion to not proceed with the bill, which is aimed at formalizing the moratorium on oil tanker traffic in the ecologically sensitive waters off northern B.C. The motion was passed on a tie vote of 6-6, supported by Conservative committee members and Independent Sen. Paula Simons, who represents Alberta.
The report, written by Conservative chair David Tkachuk, is meant to explain why the committee recommended killing the bill. It includes an assertion that the bill is “not as advertised” — the same tag line Conservatives use in a series of ads attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Combined with other Trudeau government measures like rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal and proposing more stringent environmental assessment rules for energy projects, the report argues the Liberals are “land-locking Prairie oil” and telling Alberta and Saskatchewan “that they have a lesser place in Confederation.”
“This is not just a matter of dampening the economic interests of specific provinces. It is a nationally corrosive and divisive policy which pits one region against another, inflaming separatist sentiment and stoking a misplaced resentment of Indigenous Canadians,” the report says.
The ban on tankers carrying diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands appears to be ”intentionally designed to damage the economy of western Canada,” rendering the bill “both divisive and discriminatory,” the report adds, going on to say that ”targeting one region of Canada for economic punishment is unconstitutional and destructive to the fabric of Canadian federalism.”
The report also maintains that the bill is “motivated above all else by partisan political considerations” — the Liberals have only three seats in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan, compared to 17 in B.C. — and says it’s ”deeply inappropriate for a ruling political party to consider only the regions of Canada where it is electorally competitive when crafting legislation.”
But during debate on the report Wednesday, Independent Sen. Julie Miville-Dechene, vice-chair of the committee, urged her colleagues to reject the “biased, one-sided” report with its “inappropriate, unhealthy rhetoric” which, she said, “does a disservice to the Senate.” While she agreed that the bill has fuelled western alienation and said she’s opposed to it as written, Miville-Dechene criticized the report for further contributing to the divisiveness around it and for ignoring the views of many witnesses who favour the tanker ban, including coastal First Nations.