No Tankers: The Straight Goods

One of Plato’s major rants in writing The Republic is targeted at the Sophists, who represented a school of thought that emphasized rhetoric as the primary and most essential skill for aspiring politicians and leaders. Plato accused rhetoric of too easily being turned to abuse and manipulation of the masses by fancy use of language and tricks. In contrast, Plato’s school: the Academy, focused on developing super-genius philosopher rulers whose impeccable reason and disinterested goodwill would lead to all the right answers.

Of course there can be good reason in rhetoric, and good rhetoric can be used to convey good reason. But Plato was right, our politicians, and our public interest groups (Dogwood included), can get carried away; resulting in short-term good impressions but long-term confusion.  For the sake of Platonic clarity, I’m going to go ahead and drop some of the communications lines, and lay out the straight goods, the non-rhetorical reason as best as I am able in an attempt to show why a vote for Gary Lunn is a vote for tankers, and why a vote for tankers is bad news for our coast, and not necessary.

Why are you reading about oil tankers?

  • Since 1972, there have been on again/off again proposals to build an oil tanker terminal in Kitimat, BC. The most recent iteration of this is Enbridge’s Gateway Pipeline, which has also been on again/off again due to First Nations opposition, and supplier/investor shakiness. As of this election campaign, it is definitely back on again. The pipeline would export Alberta tar sands oil via supertankers.
  • Oil tankers already fill up in Burnaby (from same pipeline that ruptured) with tar sands oil. This traffic is likely to increase, which Dogwood feels is unfortunate, but the south coast oil tanker issue is completely different from the north coast oil tanker issue – the north coast has never hosted bulk oil tanker traffic (though obviously, smaller ships carrying fuel for communities have long gone in and out). The No Tankers campaign largely targets the north coast issue.
  • The most confusing part of this for most people, me included, is the existence of the so-called moratorium on north coast oil tankers, first said to be established in 1972, and referenced in government documents. It was originally established with Alaskan oil tankers in mind, because those were the only tankers to be concerned about at the time – the issue of Alaskan tankers was formalized by establishing a Tanker Exclusion Zone in the1980’s. The risks are the same no matter what direction an oil tanker is pointing, so many British Columbians, including former MP David Anderson, contend that it applies equally to oil tanker traffic that would result from Enbridge’s Gateway Project. However, the Conservative government, Gary Lunn included, only recognize the formal TEZ, not the broad scope of the earlier policy. Because the earlier policy’s weight depends on the interpreter, the goal of Dogwood’s No Tankers campaign is a legislated ban.

Why a vote for Gary Lunn equates to a vote for oil tankers

  • Gary Lunn is the only candidate in Saanich/Gulf Islands who has not announced support for a legislated ban on oil tankers.
  • He has said that his government has not changed any policy. Many would disagree, but in the end it doesn’t matter. We’re asking for a new, clear policy, not a prolonged debate about old policy. See first bullet.
  • Gary Lunn assures us that any oil tanker proposal would have to go through a rigorous environmental assessment. This is passing the buck to an authority that has very little power to say ‘No’ outright. Environmental Assessments recommend and require measures to minimize and mitigate impacts, they don’t eliminate risk or make decisions about whether a project is a good idea in the first place. That is the job of politicians. Gary Lunn is a politician. See first bullet.

Why a vote for tankers is bad news for our coast

  • There is no such thing as a perfectly safe tanker. Oil tankers will bring oil spills because spills are an inevitable consequence of moving oil; sometimes spills happen more often than originally estimated.
  • All it would take is one accident to cause serious harm to BC’s coast. Some accident scenarios have been modelled.

Why tankers are not necessary – i.e. what’s the alternative to allowing oil tankers on our north coast?

  • The ‘alternative’ question is only valid if the proposed activity (oil tanker traffic) would arguably provide something necessary to the maintenance of, or an increase in the overall health and well-being of the people involved. Though I don’t think it is, let’s assume it’s possible to argue that the short-term construction, and the 70 odd permanent new jobs created by an oil pipeline/tanker terminal are absolutely necessary to maintaining or increasing the overall health and well-being of certain communities. In this case, my alternative is a version of ‘Good Jobs First’! I had an email this week from someone recently on the proposed tanker route who saw grizzly bears, spirit bears, black bears, rainforest wolves, and humpback whales…in one day! An alternative to allowing tankers would be to beef up sustainable ecotourism in the region; to focus on value-added forestry products, closed-system fish farms, etc. Let’s not insult the creativity of northern people by saying an oil pipeline and tanker terminal are the only way. That’s like saying we have to accept cumulative long-term losses for diminishing short-term gains; I don’t buy it.
  • The tankers would be exporting Canadian oil. This oil is not for domestic use, it would be bound for China, India, California, etc. The primary beneficiaries are the tar sands companies who will be able to demand a higher price for their product by pitching the US and overseas refining markets against each other. This isn’t about benefits for British Columbians, it’s about Alberta’s oil companies adding another card to their hand.

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