The bulk carrier Unicorn Ocean is seen loading coal at Ridley Terminals, part of the Prince Rupert port system.
Robin Rowland / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The Trudeau Liberals’ proposed ban on tankering Alberta crude oil off the British Columbia northwest coast to foreign markets is rightly on its deathbed, so why won’t the federal government let it die?I fear that anti-Alberta oilsands prejudice from key Trudeau Liberals is clouding the debate. It’s a harsh allegation, but what other reasonable conclusion is there based on their rejection of a bi-partisan compromise position on this unnecessary and discriminatory tanker ban?Indeed, it was only after it became clear that the Trudeau government would reject this most excellent compromise — pushed by Liberal-appointed Senators like Paula Simons and Julie Miville-Dechêne — that the Senate committee studying Bill C-48, the proposed tanker ban, took the unusual step of voting against supporting the federal bill. But Liberal-appointed Senators are the majority in the full Senate. They can still rubber stamp the full Bill C-48 ban. It’s far from dead.Just what was the compromise?Up and down the B.C. northwest coast almost all First Nations want to ban tanker traffic, but there’s one clear and significant exception, the Nisga’a First Nation on the north end of the coast along the Alaskan border.Any pipeline to the northwest coast is about a decade away, oil industry experts told the Senate, but it takes that long to get one financed and approved. All of the First Nations between Fort McMurray, as well as the Nisga’a and many in the neighbouring coastal Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, are open to a pipeline and deepwater port.The Nisga’a signed a treaty in 2000 and now hunger for economic development. They don’t want to shut down the possibility of tankering oil, said Eva Clayton, president of the Nisga’a Nation, at Senate hearings.“Our government is committed to creating an economic base,” Clayton said. “It is the first priority of our government. We will not continue to see our way of life eroded and to consign our children and grandchildren to a way of life without meaningful opportunities, particularly in the face of a policy decision by a government that is contrary to our interests.”Why a tanker ban here, Clayton wondered, when there is no such ban on any other Canadian coast line? “How come the same systems and regimes sufficient to support the expansion of tanker traffic through the Port of Vancouver and along either the north or east coasts of Canada are not sufficient to support tanker traffic on the north coast, where ease of navigation and low marine traffic present even fewer risks?”As for environmental risk, Clayton said: “The Nisga’a Nation has never and will never support a project that could result in the devastation of our land, our food and our way of life.”The Nisaga’a do not support shipping raw bitumen, Clayton added in an interview, but are open to moving the oil if it can one day be converted into form that can be readily cleaned up in the event of a spill.The grand dream of numerous Indigenous leaders is for a pipeline corridor from the oilsands of Fort McMurray to the coast line on Nisga’a or Lax Kw’alaams land, a pipeline with the full support and an ownership stake of every First Nation along the route, and one that would employ state-of-the art maritime safety.Could there be more a meaningful symbol of Indigenous and Canadian reconciliation than pulling off such a massive, complex but beneficial project? Who could be against it?Well, the Trudeau Liberals, evidently.At the Senate hearings, Transport Minister Marc Garneau shot down the idea of an amendment allowing for a small northern tanker corridor to Nisga’a land.“The answer is no for the reason that you cannot guarantee that any spillage will stay in that corridor,” he said.This point is relevant. Other First Nations such as the Haida face a minuscule risk of being hit hard by a major spill. But everyone in that area would have the same tiny risk as every Canadian town, city and coastline near any oil tanker.This is a normal, unexceptional risk. It has been minimized by a host of maritime safety precautions. The only thing abnormal here is the lengths the Trudeau Liberals are going to, to cling to the full ban in the face of an elegant compromise.Of course, stopping such a ban would end the land-locking of Alberta oil when it comes to Asian markets. This export potential is exactly what green and social justice groups fear.The federal authority’s objection to compromise has some Indigenous leaders wondering if a kind of “eco-colonialism” is at play here.From an Alberta perspective, we might also wonder if leading Trudeau Liberals have fully swallowed the virulent “dirty oil” rhetoric pushed by activists.Whatever the case, the federal government is not making any firstname.lastname@example.org