Dennis Patterson, Senator for Nunavut. (Submitted photo)

OP-ED: Striking a balance with the oil tanker moratorium

Dennis Patterson, Senator for Nunavut, on protecting Canada’s environment and economy with Bill C-48

“We are striving for balance.” That’s the message that Stephen Buffalo, President and CEO of the Indian Resource Council delivered to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources in Fort McMurray on April 10, 2019.

The Senate Committee was there to study bill C-69, the Trudeau Government’s omnibus bill that will negatively affect resource development in Canada, and our national economy.

However, Senators repeatedly heard that there is a relationship between that bill and bill C-48, which the Trudeau Government has also introduced and which seeks to establish a tanker ban zone off the coast of northern BC. In listening to First Nations on both sides of the argument, I am struck by the division and the acrimony that this bill breeds. It unnecessarily pits neighbour against neighbour. On one hand, Nisga’a Nation and over 200 First Nations represented by the Indian Resource Council, National Coalition of Chiefs, and the Aboriginal Equity Partners are trying to advance projects that would help bring what Chief Delbert Wapass of Thunderchild First Nation calls “economic sovereignty.”

READ MORE: MP Nathan Cullen to testify at oil tanker ban committee hearings

On the other hand, a delegation from Coastal First Nations, representing nine First Nations along that the northern coast in question brought a large delegation to Ottawa of hereditary and elected chiefs and council members to ask for measures that would protect the marine environment that they say is “economically, culturally, and environmentally integral to the well-being of [their] coastal communities.”

How do we, then, find the balance that Mr. Buffalo spoke of?

I would suggest that this bill not only needlessly shuts down the possibility of advancing Indigenous-led, Indigenous-owned projects, but also fails in its supposed goal of protecting the environment.

For example: on October 13, 2016, an empty tug boat spilled thousands of litres of diesel fuel into the waters off the coast of Bella Bella in Heiltsuk Nation. The spill destroyed the clam fisheries and adversely affected the surrounding area and other marine wildlife. Presently, the spill still costs the community over $150,000 per year in lost revenue.

This “ban” would do nothing to stop smaller, single-hulled boats from navigating through the northern waters of B.C. It would not ensure that there is spill response capacity in place to facilitate quicker clean up and recovery. It would not limit the transport of diesel, which is the type of oil that, to this day, has been impossible to clean up.

Why has there not been more money put toward improving spill response capacity? Why has the north coast of B.C. been left out of Canada’s much-touted $1.5B Oceans Protection Plan?

With the overlap in traditional territories and varying First Nation interests in the area, why have we not called all the leaders to a table to discuss with them how they want to manage their lands and resources? Why do we not consult with communities in advance to ensure that we are able to both protect the environment and pursue responsible development? In other words, why do we continue to legislate when we should collaborate?

READ MORE: OP-ED: A sustainable vision for the North Coast

If this government is truly committed to protecting the environment and reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people, then it needs to ensure it is actually taking the measures necessary to achieve those outcomes. It should stop looking for cheap and quick political “fixes” that could have long-lasting and devastating economic consequences for virtually no gain.

Dennis Patterson, Senator for Nunavut

Conservative Critic for Bill C-48


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