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Les Leyne: Clark and Trudeau begin a dance

Here’s the unofficial checklist on the call-and-response dance the federal and provincial governments are doing about marine-response capabilities on the West Coast.

Les Leyne mugshot genericHere’s the unofficial checklist on the call-and-response dance the federal and provincial governments are doing about marine-response capabilities on the West Coast.

The minuet will likely end with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Christy Clark standing together with arms linked on the proposition that Canada will soon have a “world class” safety regime to deal with marine oil spills.

Then two new dances will begin on the other conditions Clark has set before B.C. will sign off as full backers of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. They include First Nations buy-in and a fair share of the pipeline revenue to B.C. for risks incurred.

On the spill-response issue, Trudeau committed $1.5 billion nationally to an ocean-preservation plan, and B.C. countered with a specific wish list of what it wants. Here’s a provincial outline of how they stack up:

• B.C. wants Ottawa to look hard at three new salvage tugs, two based on the south coast, one on the north, on permanent standby to avert potential disasters. Ottawa is planning to commit to one new tug and allow for the potential for another. It’s also planning to beef up the towing capability of existing coast guard vessels.

That plan is designed to handle existing traffic, meaning it’s open for enhancements if the pipeline is approved and tanker traffic increases significantly.

• The phrase “world-class” isn’t defined, and no one is clear exactly what it means, but it’s used by both governments. B.C.’s understanding of the phrase is that it includes an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement and innovation. It’s a judgment call whether the federal plan meets that test, but the view for the time being is that it does.

• B.C. wants a big upgrade in marine training. It wants to update simulator training at BCIT and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to improve training and specifically train one more marine pilot. (Any and all LNG tankers will have at least one pilot on them.) Ottawa has committed a considerable sum of money in general for training across Canada, enough to cover the specific B.C. ask.

• B.C. wants a new coast guard base at Prince Rupert. Ottawa has no plans for such a base, but is planning a network of smaller improvements up and down the coast, with depots and equipment caches. That’s likely enough for B.C. to accept.

• B.C. wants clarification on the north coast moratorium on tanker traffic promised by the Trudeau government, to find out exactly what shipping lanes and types of vessels it would cover. Indications are that is coming soon.

• The province wants a clearer framework for Canada-U.S. co-operation on cross-border spills. It’s also interested in tighter response standards and risk assessments for all vessels, not just tankers, and consideration of “in situ burning” as an alternative spill response. Those technical details could easily be worked out between the two governments.

• The province also pitched a major upgrade of health-care delivery in Kitimat and Prince Rupert. It identified a need for nine more health workers in Kitimat at $1.2 million a year, and a similar upgrade of services in Prince Rupert, including a $12-million hospital heliport. It was a shot in the dark and it’s not going anywhere.

There are several other details that both governments are talking about: Better marine weather forecasting, better maps, six new radars that will mean almost the entire coast is covered.

The conclusion after comparing and contrasting all the expensive bright ideas is that B.C. and Canada are close to being on the same page, if they’re not there already.

Just So You Know: A hypothetical scenario observers have noted: If the federal Liberal cabinet approves the pipeline in the next few weeks, and B.C. starts checking off its five conditions, who does Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley cheer for in next May’s B.C. election?

Clark probably won’t be ready to commit before the vote. But at this point, the B.C. NDP seems to be leaning away from the pipeline Alberta so badly needs. B.C. Liberals look to be leaning in.

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