THE federal government has announced a series of measures they say will make tanker traffic safety on Canada's coasts "world class."
But environmental groups and local First Nations are condemning the announcement.
The eight tanker safety measures and the creation of a Tanker Safety Expert Panel were announced Monday in Vancouver by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Minister of Transport Infrastructure Denis Lebel.
The enhanced safety actions include: requiring yearly inspections of tankers that enter Canadian waters; more aerial surveillance of ships; a new Canadian Coast Guard incident command system; a review of existing pilotage and tug escort requirements; more traffic control for ports, starting with Kitimat; scientific research into spills of petroleum products like diluted bitumen; and new navigation aids including buoys and lights on shipping lanes.
The panel will be tasked with reviewing the existing safety procedures and making recommendations for further changes.
"While our current tanker safety system has served us well for many years, it is essential that we strengthen it to meet future needs, as the transportation of Canadian exports is expected to grow and create many high-quality jobs in Canada," Lebel said in a press release.
The government is also tabling a bill that will beef up enforcement and penalties for polluters, give Transport Canada more oversight, and require more pollution prevention and response capabilities at oil-handling facilities.
"As a trading nation, Canada depends on marine shipping for economic growth, jobs and long-term prosperity," Oliver said in a press release. "There will be no pipeline development without rigorous environmental protection measures, and the tanker safety initiatives we are announcing today are an important aspect of our plan for responsible resource development."
Kinder Morgan is planning to apply to the National Energy Board to more than double the amount of oil it pipes to its Burnaby terminal, which, if approved, would result in upwards of 30 tankers a week traversing Burrard Inlet, up from the current five.
The Tsleil-Waututh First Nation quickly condemned the announcement, saying an oil spill in Burrard inlet would be "inevitable" if Kinder Morgan's application is granted.
"It's important to always work toward tanker safety and the response to oil spills, but I think the best way to safeguard our coast and waters is to say 'no' to new pipelines," said Carleen Thomas, elected councillor with the band. "It's important to the Tsleil-Waututh that Harper's government really start listening to the citizens of British Columbia who are saying we don't want new pipelines or increased tanker traffic on our coast."
The nation is also taking exception to the language used in its announcement, which seems to imply that approval of the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects are a foregone conclusion, Thomas said. "It looks pre-determined," she said. "These are still decisions that have not been made. The pipeline expansion of Kinder Morgan, the new Enbridge pipeline - those things have not been authorized."
The nation has been steadfastly opposed to Kinder Morgan's plan and has cut off communications with the company to prevent any dialogue from being interpreted as consultation.
The announcement triggered a cascade of press releases from environmental groups also opposed to building more pipelines or increasing tanker traffic. "This looks to me like Stephen Harper is trying to save face after closing the Kitsilano Coast Guard station," said ForestEthics Advocacy Tar Sands campaign director Ben West.