Political Intricacies of the No Tankers Campaign

Action Alert: The Federal Liberals and NDP have both declared their support for a legislated ban on oil tankers on BC’s North Coast. Write a letter to the editor of your local or national paper and let them know that you stand with the 80% of British Columbians that support a tanker ban. Your support will help these turn political commitments into legally binding legislation that protects our coastal communities, economies and ecosystems. 

This is an exciting time for the No Tankers campaign. Federal politicians and local municipalities are following the example of BC’s Coastal First Nations and lining up in opposition to Enbridge’s tanker project. Enbridge is on the PR defensive, spending millions to convince British Columbians that tankers are worth the risk.

Interestingly Enbridge’s efforts don’t seem to be gaining them any ground. Comments to radio call in shows and letters to the editor are almost unanimous in their support of a tanker ban on BC’s coast.

The PR war aside, the real question for us here at Dogwood is how to turn the momentum behind the campaign into a real victory. Policy statements and municipal resolutions are one thing. Getting a legislated tanker ban is another. How can we make this happen?

Behind the Liberal Announcement

Overwhelming public support for defending our precious coastline has been the key to the victories we’ve won so far. We’ve been having private conversations with MPs of all political stripes for some time. Many of BC’s opposition MPs have seemingly long supported an oil tanker ban on BC’s coast, but getting it as official party policy has been a more difficult task.

While the news media has speculated that Ignatieff’s recent announcement supporting a tanker ban is about capitalizing on concern that has emerged because of the Gulf oil disaster, what really moved a latent dislike of oil tankers into an active party policy was a province-wide, diverse, and collaborative effort by First Nations, non-governmental organizations like Dogwood, and individuals alike. British Columbians didn’t need the BP disaster to realize that oil tankers are a bad idea. In fact, British Columbians have been standing up and shutting down oil tanker proposals for the north coast since the 70’s. Ignatieff was simply listening, wisely, to an overwhelming chorus.

The hundreds of letters that people sent to the Liberal leader, and BC Liberal MPs through Dogwood’s website, and the avalanche of signatures we’ve been getting on our No Tankers petition in the days and weeks leading up to the Liberal announcement likely provided an exclamation point. And the shear numbers, and weight, of concerned British Columbians has created or supported many internal champions within both the NDP and Liberal Party.

It has been the numbers that has helped to “focus the mind” of party policy makers.

Window of Opportunity

The Liberals policy statement combined with the NDP’s longstanding anti-tanker policy has created a real opportunity to pass a legislated oil tanker ban, even before the next Federal election.

In March NDP MP, Fin Donnelly introduced a private members bill to ban tankers on BC’s north coast, one of several similar bills put forward by the NDP. With some multiparty cooperation this bill could become law. But it will take work. 

Making it Happen

This parliament isn’t  known for cooperation and all parties often seem more intent on scoring points against one another than working for a common good. But this tendency doesn’t mean legislation banning tankers can’t get passed. BC is a crucial province for all three major parties and MPs and candidates of all stripes here would have to be living in a cave not to know that the vast majority of British Columbians, 80%, support a tanker ban on BC’s coast. Also, the Liberals and NDP don’t compete head to head in many ridings in BC, meaning there’s room for cooperation.

When looking at ridings where either the Liberals or NDP won by a small margin the Conservatives were their main opposition. If both parties came out strongly and worked together on passing legislation to ban oil tankers it could float both their boats. Informal talks with the Bloc Quebecois suggest they would vote in favour of a tanker ban as well. The big loser would be the Conservatives: the only party supporting projects that would bring supertankers to our coast.

At the end of the day it’s not what politicians say, but what they do that really counts. And both political parties have a chance to put their laudable, and welcome words into action by making a legislated tanker ban on BC’s north coast a reality.

It’s up to us to continue to let our federal representatives know that banning tankers is a priority for British Columbians and an issue that if acted upon will win them votes (Liberal and NDP), or lose them votes if ignored (Conservatives).

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