The big hush around oil tankers

Recent breaches to the 1972 moratorium that bans oil tanker traffic in the inside coastal waters of BC’s north coast are finally getting some attention. Papers from the Province to the Globe and Mail have reported the story as have numerous radio stations. While there is now a buzz in the media our government has remained peculiarly silent. “Problem, what problem” pretty much sums up their response.

When my kids were toddlers one of their favourite bed-time stories was “Shhhh, don’t wake the baby.” In it a family vainly attempts to swat a small fly without waking their sleeping infant. Every attempt to get the fly is noisier than the last until the inevitable happens and the baby wakes up screaming, much to the chagrin of the beleaguered dad.

I’ve been thinking about this story in the context of our current campaign to keep oil tankers out the inside coastal waters of Northern BC. From the point of view of Stephen Harper’s conservative “family” the challenge is to swat away those of us bringing the oil tankers moratorium to the public’s attention as quietly as possible. The baby you see is a sleeping giant “Hushhhh, don’t wake the public.”

The problem for Harper is that we are getting noisier. Articles have appeared in newspapers from the Globe and Mail to the Province, on online journal, on radio and television. People are asking “What about that moratorium?” “Moratorium? What moratorium?” characterises the government’s response.

The government’s position completely ignores the historical record. Just a few years ago, the federal government convened three separate panels about oil and gas issues in BC coastal waters. Two of the reports commissioned by Natural Resources Canada specifically referred to a moratorium on oil tanker traffic, imposed in 1972, through Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. The independent Royal Society of Canada’s scientific panel report released in 2003 also concluded that the oil tanker moratorium should remain in place. 75% of British Columbians that participated in the Priddle panel public consultations supported the moratorium. And the federal government’s First Nation consultation process found that affected First Nations were unanimously opposed to lifting the moratorium. Pretty conclusive stuff.

However we now have a new Prime Minister in Ottawa, and as Stephen Harper has shown, he doesn’t feel obliged to uphold the commitments of previous Canadian governments. Even when those commitments have the support of the majority of Canadians.

Garry Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources – the same ministry that drafted reports affirming the moratorium, was recently quoted in Victoria’s Times Colonist saying “There has never been a moratorium.” The question is not whether there is a moratorium but why the Minister would wish to deny it, especially when British Columbians overwhelmingly support the tanker ban.

When the government states that the moratorium never existed, what is in fact being said is that the government feels it’s okay to act as if it never existed and that no public consultation is needed before allowing tankers into our inside coastal waters. The public feels differently. In a poll commissioned by Dogwood Initiative last year we found that 88% of British Columbians felt there should be public consultation before allowing tankers in.

Our federal government is increasingly out of step with the values of British Columbians on this issue and they know it. The only way for them to avoid the inevitable public outcry is to try to keep the sleeping giant of public opinion unaware.

Sorry Mr Harper and Mr Lunn, the giant is waking.