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Western premiers urge PM to kill tanker bill

Canada's three western premiers are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to defeat an opposition bill that would ban oil tanker traffic on British Columbia's north coast, saying it would kill pipeline plans meant to open up the region's energy markets.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach submitted a letter to the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday saying the private member's bill, C-606, is "aimed squarely at limiting Western Canada's opportunities to grow our economies." The letter was co-signed by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and outgoing B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.

The letter struck a nationalist tone - while 800,000 barrels of petroleum products are shipped each day along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, a ban on tanker traffic in the West would be "inconsistent," it said.

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"We would therefore urge you to act in the national interest and defeat this bill," it said.

The letter may be something of a moot point because the minority Harper government is far from supportive of the bill.

"Our government's number-one priority remains the economy. We must balance that with responsible environmental stewardship. A cursory review of this bill raises serious concerns about how it could hurt Canada's economic recovery," Transport Minister Chuck Strahl - a B.C. MP - said in a statement, adding that oil tankers have operated safely along B.C.'s coast for years.

The bill, if passed by the opposition parties, would amend the Canada Shipping Act to ban oil tanker traffic along three regions that stretch continuously from the top of Vancouver Island to the southern Alaska coast. Included in that region are the waters off Kitimat, B.C., the destination of two proposed pipeline projects that the three provinces see as essential to reaching lucrative Asian markets.

But the proposed pipelines are opposed by dozens of aboriginal groups, environmental groups and fishermen.

"When I heard [Mr. Campbell]signed that [letter] I was furious," said Arnie Nagy, a union leader in the fishing industry in Prince Rupert, B.C.

Mr. Campbell is set to step down next month, and his late signing of the letter is "absolutely a betrayal of the people of British Columbia," Mr. Nagy said.

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Liberal Vancouver-area MP Joyce Murray, who tabled Bill C-606, said the provinces have accepted "wildly inflated" oil company figures and projections in their support of the pipeline.

"The people of B.C. - the vast majority - would like to see this area protected," Ms. Murray said.

Her bill calls the waterways a "world treasure" and says Canadians must "protect the ocean's vital natural resources" by banning tankers for fear of a potential oil spill. The waters along northern B.C.'s shores, which support a fishing industry that employs 56,000 people, are notoriously difficult to navigate, Mr. Nagy said.

"One little accident destroys this entire operation," he said.

The bill had its first reading on Dec. 14 of last year. If the opposition parties all vote to pass it, the partisan and Conservative-dominated senate could strike it down - although Ms. Murray hoped that wouldn't be the case. (She noted she's something of an "optimist.")

The letter was submitted one day after the Alberta throne speech, in which Mr. Stelmach announced his province would create an Asia advisory council as part of a renewed push to open trade routes with China, India, Japan and South Korea.

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Currently, most western energy is sold to the United States, and there's little or no capacity to sell it elsewhere.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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