Alberta's new premier urges Senate committee to scrap oil tanker ban bill

Jason Kenney is sworn in as the 18th Premier of Alberta on April 30, 2019. Image: Government of Alberta

EDMONTON — Alberta's new premier says the province will launch a constitutional challenge against a federal government bill to ban tankers off British Columbia's northern coast if it goes ahead.

The Senate's committee on transport and communications was in Edmonton Tuesday for a public hearing on Bill C-48.

Premier Jason Kenney said the bill represents a grave threat to the economic interests of Alberta and Canada.

“Not only do we disagree with Bill C-48 in its current form, we do not agree with the bill period,” he said.

“We believe it must be scrapped.”

Kenney said the province believes the bill is unconstitutional because it only affects oil coming out of the Alberta oilsands.

“If this legislation is about tanker traffic, then tell us why would it not apply to B.C. natural gas,” he said.

“I am confused by this legislation. If it is so important, why aren't we looking at other Canadian coastlines?”

The bill would prohibit oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil and related products in waters between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the Alaska border.

The legislation passed in the House of Commons last spring and is being debated in the Senate.

Some senators on the committee said they are conflicted by testimony they've heard across the country.

Leaders from several north-coast B.C. First Nations previously testified that if the Senate doesn't approve the bill, a spill could kill their thriving but fragile marine-based economies.

On Tuesday, senators heard similar concerns from Albertans about the province's oil industry.

Mayor Don Scott of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the bill is divisive and would threaten national unity.

“It should never become law,” he said, explaining it would hurt both Fort McMurray and the oilsands in northern Alberta.

Chief Craig Makinaw of the Ermineskin Cree Nation said there's a perception that all First Nations are against oil and gas development.

“There's a lot of misinformation and fear mongering about having pipelines across your lands,” he said.

Makinaw said oil and gas has helped his First Nation become one of the most financially stable in the country, and noted he's simply asking for a reasonable solution that works for both provinces.

“Don't pick winners and losers,” he said. “Let's find a way forward where we can all benefit.”

Al Reid, executive vice-president with Calgary-based Cenovus Energy Inc., testified that the bill would hurt the oil industry.

“To be truly internationally competitive, we need the economies of scale that come from access to northern B.C.'s deep water ports,” he said. “Unfortunately, Bill C-48 offers no pathway to reasonable compromise. It simply closes the door to Alberta's primary export.

“We can do better than this legislation, which should be at a minimum allowing for regulated, safe oil shipping corridors.”

Senator Paula Simons, who is from Edmonton, said she's torn on how to handle the bill.

“On the one hand, we've been to Prince Rupert, we've been to Terrace, we've heard very emotional and powerful evidence and testimony from particularly First Nations and fisher people there who are desperate to protect their really beautiful territory,” she said outside the committee meeting.

“On the other hand, I am an Alberta senator and I am not sure that the government has made a scientific case for a ban that is this extensive.”

Academics who addressed the committee said the bill would affect many aspects of Alberta's oil industry, and noted it would be difficult for the federal government to come up with a win-win for both the province and B.C.

“It's pretty blunt on what it is — it's banning oil exports off the northwest coast of B.C.. So I don't think there's a political in-between there,” said Andrew Leach, an associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta. “Maybe a little bit of softening on the different refined products…At the end of the day, it's pretty stark. It's almost a yes or no.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press