EDMONTON — A Senate committee is being asked to kill or at least amend the federal government’s bill to ban tankers off the British Columbia coast.
The committee on transport and communications is hearing from Albertans — including the new premier — during public hearings in Edmonton on Bill C-48.
The bill would prohibit oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil in waters between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the Alaska border.
The legislation passed in the House of Commons last spring and is being debated in the Senate.
Senators on the committee say they are conflicted by testimony they’ve heard across the country.
They are to hear later in the day from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of the United Conservative party.
On Tuesday morning, they heard from Mayor Don Scott of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Chief Craig Makinaw of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, who both expressed concerns with the bill.
Scott said it’s divisive and would threaten national unity.
“It should never become law,” he said.
Makinaw said there’s a perception that all First Nations are against oil and gas development.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and fear mongering,” Makinaw said.
Senators asked whether they were consulted about the tanker ban and both said they hadn’t been.
Makinaw said he’s simply asking for a reasonable solution.
“Don’t pick winners and losers,” he said. “Let’s find a way forward where we can all benefit.”
Scott added that the bill would fundamentally undermine the community of Fort McMurray and the oilsands.
Senator Paula Simons, who is from Edmonton, said she’s conflicted by the bill.
“On the one hand, we’ve been to Prince Rupert, we’ve been to Terrace, we’ve heard very emotional and powerful evidence and testimony from particularly First Nations and fisher people there who are desperate to protect their really beautiful territory,” she said.
“On the other hand, I am an Alberta senator and I am not sure that the government has made a scientific case for a ban that is this extensive.”
Academics who addressed the committee said it will be difficult for the federal government to come up with a win-win.
“It’s pretty blunt on what it is — it’s banning oil exports off the northwest coast of B.C., so I don’t think there’s a political in-between there,” said Andrew Leach, an associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta. “Maybe a little bit of softening on the different refined products.
“At the end of the day, it’s pretty stark. It’s almost a yes or no. It’s a short bill. There’s not much to it.”
The committee heard earlier this month from outgoing NDP premier Rachel Notley, who urged the Senate to toss the bill “in the garbage.”
She said the proposed law is discriminatory because it wouldn’t be able to stop international tanker traffic, but would impede Alberta’s efforts to get oil to new markets.
Notley added that it’s a double standard given that Ottawa supports the liquefied natural gas industry, tankers on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Newfoundland’s Hibernia oil project.
“Let’s show Canadians that 90,000 jobs in downtown Calgary are just as important as 90,000 jobs in downtown Montreal,” Notley said April 9 via video link from Calgary to senators in Ottawa.
“Don’t block us, back us,” she added.