Senate committee recommends against proceeding with B.C. tanker ban bill

Alberta opponents of B.C. oil tanker ban denounce Senate vote keeping bill alive

A Senate committee has recommended the federal government not proceed with Bill C-48, which would ban oil tankers from docking along B.C's north coast.

But Wednesday's 6-6 tie vote by the Senate's transportation and communications committee doesn't mean the bill is necessarily done, as it will go back to the chamber for further debate.

According to senate committee rules, a tie vote is the same as a vote against as it needs a clear majority of support to proceed.

The committee's five Conservative senators voted against it, joined by Alberta independent Paula Simons. Five other independents and one self-identified Liberal voted in favour.

Simons cast the deciding vote against amending or advancing the bill. She said she felt it was her duty as an Alberta senator to vote against it in its current form.

"I am very aware of how extraordinarily beautiful and sensitive that particular ecosystem is and I very much want to see it protected. But Bill C-48 was not going to give that strip of land and sea the protection it rightly deserved," she said. 

"And at the same time, it was going to so severely prejudice Alberta's energy industry that in good conscience as an Alberta senator, I could not vote in favour of the bill unamended."

Simons, who sits as an independent senator, voted in line with conservative senators against the bill.

"I did not do these things to make conservatives happy," she said. "I am an independent non-partisan Albertan who acted in what I felt was the best interests of my province."

Alberta Sen. Doug Black said if the bill goes through, it would be the only oil tanker ban in the world.

"Through testimony it became clearer day over day over day that in fact, the government is pursuing this tanker ban because the prime minister made a political commitment in the last campaign. No research, no development, no investment, no meaningful consultation with First Nations," he said. 

Alberta's premier praised the decision on social media.

"This is a victory for common sense and economic growth," tweeted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shortly after the decision Wednesday evening.

"Thank you to Senators for listening to Albertans and respecting fairness in our federation."

Bill C-48 would prohibit tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of oil from docking along an area that stretches from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border, which would do away with projects like the now-defunct Northern Gateway or Indigenous-led Eagle Spirit pipelines.

Its initial passage in the House of Commons was celebrated by environmentalists, who said it would help keep the coast and its diverse fishing industry safe from spills.

But it's faced criticism from industry, First Nations and provincial leaders, who worried it could critically harm Canada's oil exports.

Former premier Rachel Notley called the policy a "stampede of stupid" for unfairly targeting Alberta.

"The flawed legislation completely ignored decades of safe shipping in waters off the northern B.C. coast and it wasn't even a real ban as it exempted massive [liquefied natural gas] tankers," said NDP energy critic Irfan Sabir in an emailed statement following the decision.

Simons said the committee's decision to recommend against proceeding with a bill was unusual.

"What happened tonight was very rare. It's not unprecedented, but it's a very unusual situation in which the committee, because of my vote in the end, voted not to recommend the bill to the Senate," she said.

"So the Senate can accept our report and not proceed with the bill, or, what is more likely, the Senate will bring the bill back." 

Simons said if that happens, she'll push to move multiple amendments, including ones that would respect the wishes of local First Nations and create points of egress for Alberta oil to reach the coast. 

The Senate will likely discuss whether or not to accept the committee's report sometime in the next few weeks.