My good friend and colleague was asked by a journalist for a comment on the Joe Oliver/Denis Lebel news conference held last week in Vancouver. I have to admit, listening to them left me feeling that they had very little respect for the people they represent. So Dave produced this as his comment. Unedited:
I promised Laila Yuile
that I would give her my take on the propaganda offered by investment
banker, Joe Oliver, currently the Minister of Natural Resources in
Before I go on, I think you should first take a look at Chris Montgomery's
maritime blog where she makes one very solid point - new rules mean
nothing if they are enforced with the same vigour as the ones currently
in place. Transport Canada and other agencies involved in maritime
safety in Canada have been nothing, if not pitiful, in the pursuit of
regulatory stringency. Further, there is an undercurrent of "big bucks
gets the nod" when it comes to exemptions and relaxation of codified
also weighed in, suggesting that no amount of regulatory change or
stiffening will change what is likely to become known as the "failed
Northern Gateway pipeline". Maybe so, but there is this consistent
attempt to conflate the overland pipeline issue with the maritime
shipping concern. Even Enbridge links the two when, in fact, (and by
their own admission), they are distinctly separate items.
preparation for the roll-out of Oliver's little speech in front of
Vancouver Harbour, Transport Canada went to work and posted two items on
tanker safety in January of this year. It worth taking note of this and this. It's also worth taking note of the things Oliver said he would be changing.
An expert panel.
As Chris Montgomery pointed out, the chairman appointed is likely as
good as we're going to get. It certainly could have been worse. The
other two "experts" are not professional seafarers. I would like to hear
what, precisely, they are "expert" in dealing with. Not that it
matters. Harper's history in dealing with "experts" is to dismiss or
ignore anything they have to say and, if they go public with information
inconvenient to the Harper agenda, to smear them.
The two pilot rule.
This is not new. This already exists for laden tankers in BC coast
waters making the transit from Vancouver harbour to the Victoria pilot
station. Once both pilots have been disembarked at the Victoria
waterfront there is nothing, save a good passage plan and precise
execution, to prevent a foreign-flagged tanker, laden with diluted
bitumen from the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, from careening into Race Rocks,
Sherringham Point, or some other prominotory not in the current
vocabulary of Joe Oliver or Denis Lebel. Likewise, the trip out of
Douglas Channel would involve disembarking pilots at the limits of
mandatory pilotage and releasing the escort tugs wherein a
foreign-flagged ship finds itself in Hecate Strait facing the Queen
Charlotte Islands in some of the worst weather on the planet.
Increased tanker inspections.
Nice try. The last federal budget and its dodgy implementation bill
plundered Transport Canada of inspectors. The truth is, unless there is
an infusion of money and highly-skilled people into Transport Canada
increased inspection frequency will either be impossible or it will come
at the expense of Port State Control inspections of other cargo ship
types, all of which can be just as dangerous as a crude oil tanker. The
emphasis on "double hulls" is ludicrous. Tankers without double hulls
are already forbidden entry into North American ports. Notwithstanding,
double-hulls have developed some of their own problems which may make
the whole effort quite pointless.
Increase in the National Aerial Surveillance Program to monitor shipping.
Who are these two trying to kid? It's a great program to gather
intelligence and to spot pollution once it's already happened but it
won't for one second prevent an oil spill due to a ship running aground,
breaking up in heavy weather, or becoming involved in a collision. Keep
in mind that with budget cuts to the Canadian Forces, the RCAF has
reduced operations tempo and a good deal of the NASP was conducted by
Aurora and Arcturus long-range maritime patrol aircraft carrying out
sovereignty flights. Those are happening less often which means the
Oliver/Lebel dog and pony show is in fact nothing but numbers
Scientific research on non-conventional petroleum products like bitumen.
Well now, a lot of that research has already been done. Right up to the
point where the Harper government cut the staff of the research group
from 45 to 15. The government has the research of the group led by Merv Fingas
but the Harper government dismissed it - not convenient for the
narrative to which they adhere. So, is Oliver planning on listening to
qualified chemists, physicists and oceanographers or are they going to
buy into the opinions of Enbridge's hired biologist?
More ports, including Kitimat, designated for traffic control measures.
OK. So there will be traffic separation schemes. Traffic control from
Vessel Traffic Service stations is advisory. The truth is, unless there
is a huge amount of money spent on shore based radar covering the entire
inside passage, safety is not going to be enhanced. Current VTS on the
central coast relies on ships accurately providing their position at
check-in points and estimating the time of arrival at the next one. The
VTS station is blind. Reliance on automated information systems
providing a ship's course, speed and position is foolhardy. Such systems
are time-late and do not present a current surface picture.
Modern navigation systems and modified aids to navigation.
That's nice. It's also not new. Canada was well behind other countries
in producing digital charts to the S-57 IHO standard. This was
particularly the case with Douglas Channel where charts did not meet the
standard for electronic chart display and information systems. That's
being corrected so how this is a new initiative is something of a
mystery. As far as requiring arriving ships to possess the digital
technology, they already do. The addition of the necessary buoys,
lights, etc. to ensure the route is properly marked is not new; The fact that the Canadian Coast Guard is now going to have to install them is.
Up to this point, Enbridge was going to be required to pay for upgrades
to nav aids in Douglas Channel. Must be nice to have your old banker
buddies in a cabinet chair.
The amendments to oil terminal safety regulations are
so long overdue as to be laughable. TERMPOL is out of date by over a
decade. Requiring terminals to submit spill plans as a regulatory
requirement has been asked of this government since it came to office.
They have, up to now, done nothing. Administrative monetary penalties
are a good start but they are far too low for the likes of an oil
terminal which could do permanent environmental damage in a matter of
An important point here is that this is not about
any pipeline. This is about shipping. While there is certainly a
connection, keep very much in mind that once the ship has left the
terminal, no matter what outfits like Enbridge and Kinder-Morgan say
now, they are no longer the responsible party and they will wash their
hands of any involvement should a tanker hit the rocks.
brings up another issue. Unless something radical happens, every ship
transporting DilBit will be foreign-flagged. Every one. Canada has no
significant foreign-going tanker fleet. That, whether the likes of
Oliver or Lebel admit it or not, increases the risk. It would be a
straight-forward matter to do what other countries have done and require
that at least 40 percent of shipments be made in Canadian-flagged
vessels. That would require that outfits like Enbridge and
Kinder-Morgan, in order to move their product, become involved beyond
the terminal and pay much closer attention to the safety of the route.
It would be much more effective if Transport Canada was carrying out
Flag-State Control instead of Port-State Control. None of that will
happen, of course, and the likes of a propagandist banker like Oliver
will see that it never does.
Then of course, there's this.
Really, an "uncharted" sandbar? Maybe stick to deeper water next time.
And there are still reports out there that the spill response vessel had
a close-quarters situation with a BC Ferry. Not something which