NDP bill raises tough question for Harper

 

Today is World Oceans Day, and the federal NDP are using it to make their first substantive policy proposal as Canada’s Official Opposition: a private member’s bill to ban oil supertankers from Canada’s Pacific North Coast. B.C. NDP Members of Parliament Nathan Cullen (Skeena – Bulkley Valley) and Fin Donnelly (New Westminster – Coquitlam) made the announcement this morning in Ottawa.

The NDP’s new bill is similar to the four previous tanker ban bills tabled by Denise Savoie (NDP; Victoria), Fin Donnelly, Don Davies (NDP; Vancouver Kingsway) and Joyce Murray (Liberal; Vancouver Quadra) and to the symbolic House of Commons motion sponsored by Nathan Cullen that successfully passed last December.

For those working to ban oil tankers from B.C.’s coast, this latest bill does not mean victory is nigh, because the Conservative majority in Parliament has full discretion over which bills pass and which bills die. If the NDP bill comes up for a vote, the Conservatives will vote it down.

For us, today’s bill signals that the Official Opposition considers the threat posed by oil pipelines and tankers a top priority, and it means we’ll have lots of help keeping the issue alive in federal circles. For the NDP, a tanker ban bill will serve to highlight the distinction between them and the governing Conservatives on energy, environmental and First Nation issues. It will also signal that in a Quebec-dominated NDP caucus, the west coast still registers.

For Harper and the Conservatives, electoral consequences stemming from their pro-tanker stance are a ways off; it’s the unequivocal opposition by so many First Nations to the idea that could bite them in the short-term.

For the economy to continue growing perpetually, as we’re falsely told it must, more and more needs to be cut, dug, and pumped from our lands and waters. If that’s to happen, the Conservatives need to maintain and improve relations with First Nations. If the party obstinately supports a lightning-rod project like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, they could precipitate a broader conflict with First Nations that delays mining, oil and gas, and tree cutting elsewhere, leading to a net decrease in economic activity.

I’m cool with that, but I bet Stephen Harper isn’t. As this conflict escalates, he’ll have to make a choice about whether this is the sword he wants First Nations resource relations to die on. The NDP’s bill may help to force that choice.

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