OTTAWA — A Senate committee says the Trudeau government's bill to ban oil tanker traffic off British Columbia's northern coast should be scrapped because it will divide the country, inflame separatist sentiment in Alberta and stoke resentment of Indigenous Peoples.
That conclusion is contained in a Conservative-written report of the Senate's transportation and communications committee on Bill C-48. But the sharp partisan tone of the report appears to have backfired, angering even some independent senators opposed to the bill but who are now urging their colleagues to reject the report.
If senators vote to accept the report, that would immediately kill the bill. If they reject the report, the bill would proceed to third reading debate, where all senators would have a chance to propose amendments and decide whether the bill should live or die.
The committee last month passed a motion to not proceed with the bill, which is aimed at formalizing the moratorium on oil tanker traffic in the ecologically sensitive waters off northern B.C. The motion was passed on a tie vote of 6-6, supported by Conservative committee members and Independent Sen. Paula Simons, who represents Alberta.
The report, written by Conservative chair David Tkachuk, is meant to explain why the committee recommended killing the bill. It includes an assertion that the bill is "not as advertised" — the same tag line Conservatives use in a series of ads attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Combined with other Trudeau government measures like rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal and proposing more stringent environmental assessment rules for energy projects, the report argues the Liberals are "land-locking Prairie oil" and telling Alberta and Saskatchewan "that they have a lesser place in Confederation."
"This is not just a matter of dampening the economic interests of specific provinces. It is a nationally corrosive and divisive policy which pits one region against another, inflaming separatist sentiment and stoking a misplaced resentment of Indigenous Canadians," the report says.
The ban on tankers carrying diluted bitumen from Alberta's oilsands appears to be "intentionally designed to damage the economy of western Canada," rendering the bill "both divisive and discriminatory," the report adds, going on to say that "targeting one region of Canada for economic punishment is unconstitutional and destructive to the fabric of Canadian federalism."
The report also maintains that the bill is "motivated above all else by partisan political considerations" — the Liberals have only three seats in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan, compared to 17 in B.C. — and says it's "deeply inappropriate for a ruling political party to consider only the regions of Canada where it is electorally competitive when crafting legislation."
But during debate on the report Wednesday, Independent Sen. Julie Miville-Dechene, vice-chair of the committee, urged her colleagues to reject the "biased, one-sided" report with its "inappropriate, unhealthy rhetoric" which, she said, "does a disservice to the Senate." While she agreed that the bill has fuelled western alienation and said she's opposed to it as written, Miville-Dechene criticized the report for further contributing to the divisiveness around it and for ignoring the views of many witnesses who favour the tanker ban, including coastal First Nations.
Similarly, Independent Sen. Andre Pratte, who is also opposed to the bill, said the report's "partisan and excessive language does a disservice to the Senate." He said the report "distorts the facts and caricatures reality" in blaming the Liberal government solely for Alberta's economic decline when it was already on the skids before the 2015 election due to slumping oil prices.
"The Senate's duty is not to foster division but to point the way towards negotiation and compromise," Pratte argued, urging rejection of the report so that senators can propose amendments that attempt to find a balance between protection of B.C.'s coast and the need to ship Alberta's oil and gas to markets overseas.
Possible amendments could include allowing for a shipping corridor and putting a time limit on the tanker ban, rather than making it permanent.
Conservative senators, echoing the committee report, argued that amendments would be pointless since Transport Minister Marc Garneau told the committee the government won't accept any changes.
However, Sen. Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Senate, pointed out that Garneau actually rejected the idea of a shipping corridor as antithetical to the purpose of C-48 but said he'd welcome other constructive amendments that were in keeping with the spirit of the bill.
Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press