East/West Divide

The Harper government is aggressively defending the East Coast against several LNG proposals. Why isn’t British Columbia getting the same treatment?

“…let me be absolutely clear. We oppose the passage of LNG tanker traffic through Head Harbour, and we will continue to do so.”Stephen Harper

While rattling sabres to protect east coast waters Stephen Harper is allowing BC’s coast to be put at risk. Harper’s government has aggressively intervened to defend the narrow channel of Head Harbour Passage, off southern New Brunswick, from LNG tanker traffic servicing three proposed LNG terminals in Maine. The Tories cite unacceptable environmental and navigational risks as grounds for their opposition. On the BC coast however those same risks don’t cause Harper any concern.

Contrast the Tories fighting words regarding the east coast with their implicit support for an LNG terminal at the end of a very long, narrow, and dangerous channel on the north coast of British Columbia. Kitimat LNG, a project that is off the radar of most British Columbians, received federal approval in June. The facility will require LNG tankers to pass through the treacherous waters of BC’s north coast before entering the 140 km fjord of Douglas Channel, passing the site where the Queen of the North, a BC ferry, sank last year.
The labyrinthine coast of British Columbia’s northern inside passage is studded with treacherous submerged rock pinnacles and subject to 25-foot  tides and hurricane force winds. It is also the heartland of the province’s $1.7 billion/year commercial fishery. It gives life to at least 7,000 marine species of fish, including more than 9,600 genetically distinct salmon stocks.

Surely here too Canada’s government would wish to ‘protect our environment, our citizens, and our economy in terms of the fishery’?

The answer appears to be: ‘No’. On the west coast, the Conservative government has rubber stamped the Kitimat project and there is no indication it will do any different for the recently proposed terminal on Texada Island east of Courtney-Comox in the Strait of Georgia.

The proposed LNG tanker routes to Kitimat and Texada are every bit as dangerous and ecologically sensitive as Head Harbour Passage; so what’s the difference?

The federal government seems to have concluded that risks posed by LNG tankers and terminals are acceptable so long as they benefit the Canadian oil and gas industry.  
But how much risk should British Columbians and all Canadians shoulder to supply the US and Alberta’s tar sands, with natural gas?

This is not the first time both coasts have been under threat from tankers. Previous governments have taken action to protect coastlines. Thirty five-years ago, on the west coast, Prime Minister Trudeau imposed a tanker moratorium on Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, Douglas Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound. In 1982 Ottawa passed a regulation under the Canada Shipping Act restricting fossil fuel laden ships passing through Head Harbour.

So why the discrepancy in the government’s position between the past and  present, east and west?

Perhaps it’s a question of leadership, or the lack thereof. Minister of Veteran affairs, Greg Thompson, is a strong representative for his constituency in New Brunswick.  BC’s cabinet representatives, Minister of Natural Resources and MP for Saanich-Gulf-Islands, Gary Lunn, is a card-carrying advocate for the oil and gas industry, particularly Alberta’s tar sands.
With polls showing that over 84% of Vancouver Islanders support a ban on oil tankers perhaps Gary Lunn should start showing some allegiance to his constituents. The people of BC will not allow oil and gas tankers in our fragile coastal waters. Politicians that ignore this do so at their peril.

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