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Premier Clark: Changes coming in oil-spill protection

B.C. has been “cheated” for years by the federal government on coastal protection, Premier Christy Clark told B.C. Liberal Party delegates Sunday, but that might be about to change.
christy clark
Premier Christy Clark delivers a keynote address at the B.C. Liberal Party convention, in Vancouver on Sunday.

B.C. has been “cheated” for years by the federal government on coastal protection, Premier Christy Clark told B.C. Liberal Party delegates Sunday, but that might be about to change.

The provincial and federal governments started preparing behind the scenes last week for a major announcement in B.C. related to oil spill protection, expected early this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may be on hand to unveil developments on spill response improvements. They are linked to the federal cabinet’s upcoming decision on the fate of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. That $6.8-billion proposal to twin an existing line from Alberta to Burnaby to handle the flow of heavy crude from the oil sands to the coast has been hotly debated for years and a final government decision is due by December.

Clark hinted at the spill response news while rallying party members at the convention to the task of winning a fifth term next May.

“Our incredible ocean, our incredible coast line is under more and more threat,” Clark said, due to increasing marine traffic. “And we all know that B.C. has not been adequately protected from spills, from potential spills in decades.

“We have been cheated by the federal government for a long time while resources have gone to the east. It is our time to make sure that our coast is adequately protected.

This Prime Minister has the chance to change it. I believe he is going to be the one that does it.”

A major upgrade to spill response capabilities and Coast Guard assets on the B.C. coast could change the pipeline picture significantly, as the marine impacts have dominated the pipeline arguments.

As well, the Trudeau government is working on a crude tanker moratorium for the north coast, which would effectively block the competing Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat.

Trudeau is under intense national pressure to meet Alberta’s need to get more oil sands product to the coast, while addressing B.C. concerns about marine environment.

The B.C. government has held off on taking a position, citing five conditions that must be met before the province will endorse a pipeline. The key marine safety one — “a world-leading spill response” capability — involves a demand for a number of major investments in that area.

The government is preparing to outline those in detail in conjunction with the federal announcement. They include a new northern Coast Guard base and three new tugs based on the coast, including one at Port Renfrew.

Elsewhere in her speech, Clark changed gears and talked about social programs like an adoption drive and improved services for single mothers on welfare, rather than the economic data.

Those programs are built on the success of the economy, “which is why we’re fighting so hard to get it done,” she said.