OTTAWA, O.N. – Legislation barring oil tankers from loading at ports on the northern coast of British Columbia slipped over its final hurdle in the Senate Thursday, despite last-minute attempts by Conservative senators to convince their colleagues to kill it.
Bill C-48 is one of two government bills Conservatives in both the House of Commons and the Senate say are kneecapping Alberta’s oil industry by limiting the movement of its oil. It passed the Senate by a vote of 49 to 46.
The tanker ban and Bill C-69, an overhaul of federal environmental assessments of major construction projects, have together become a flashpoint between the Liberals and Conservatives over how Canada can protect the environment without driving investment away from the fossil-fuel sector.
C-69 imposes more requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered when major national resource-exploitation and transportation projects are being evaluated. It applies to a wide range of projects including interprovincial pipelines, highways, mines and power links.
C-69 was set for its final dance in the upper chamber late Thursday evening. The Senate made more than 200 amendments to that bill earlier this month but the government accepted only 99 of them, mostly to do with reducing ministerial discretion to intervene in the review process.
The unelected Senate has generally bowed to the will of the elected House of Commons when there is a dispute between the two parliamentary chambers about legislation.
The bills, both expected to be fodder for Liberals and Conservatives on the campaign trail to this fall’s election, were on a long list of legislation the Senate pounded through as it prepared to rise for the summer.
The House of Commons called it quits earlier Thursday. The House closed after MPs delivered condolence speeches following the death of Conservative MP Mark Warawa, forgoing the rest of the day’s planned activities out of respect for the veteran MP who died of cancer.
Bill C-48 imposes a moratorium on oil tankers north of Vancouver Island, but after the government accepted an amendment from the Senate, it will now undergo a mandatory review in five years.
The Senate committee that reviewed the bill recommended in May the entire Senate vote down the bill in its entirety, but that didn’t happen, leading Conservatives to accuse the Independent senators who make up a majority in the chamber of being Liberals in disguise.
Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald was one of a few from his caucus to make final pleas with his colleagues to not proceed with the bill.
He said it “will be devastating for the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies.”
However several Independent senators rose to speak in favour of the bill, including Yukon Independent Sen. Pat Duncan.
“I believe we should be doing it,” said Duncan.
Ontario Sen. Donna Dasko, who was on the committee that studied the bill in the Senate, said she thinks “it is quite a good bill.”
“This bill does not actually ban tankers from the Hecate Strait; it simply landlocks Alberta and Saskatchewan oil, and destroys the possibility of economic development in northern Indigenous communities,” said Conservative Sen. Dennis Patterson, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, after the Senate passed it.