Bill C-48 divides Canadians and betrays the promise of Confederation

oil tanker

By Senator Elaine McCoy
Vancouver Sun
Mach 29, 2019

As senators, we have heard from thousands of Canadians for and against Bill C-69, an act that promises the modernization of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. That’s a good thing.

But an eerie silence prevails around Bill C-48.

That’s odd because Bill C-48 is far more dangerous. It proposes to ban oil tankers off most of Canada’s western coast. The bill threatens national unity severely and significantly by pitting one region against another and communities against communities.

Canada was built on conversation, not conflict. We have always talked our way through to solutions that balance everyone’s interests. Bill C-48 promotes conflict, not co-operation.

By banning tankers that transport western oil to markets overseas, the bill unfairly inhibits the capacity of three provinces to fully develop their natural resources. It effectively landlocks much of our energy resources, preventing future infrastructure development and frustrating the aspirations of several Indigenous communities. The result is a plan that appears to disadvantage one part of Canada in favour of another, digging deeper fault lines in national unity.

We ought to be wary when governments offer easy solutions to complex problems. We’re told that banning tankers off the B.C. coast will protect its unique ecosystem and preserve the economic livelihoods of fishing communities. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support this claim.

Everyone agrees that the coast needs to be protected, but Bill C-48 doesn’t offer real-time protection. It allows the government to exempt, arbitrarily, any number of tankers from the ban. It does nothing to address other marine traffic that pose spill risks and have damaged coastal communities.

This bill is not a moratorium so much as a cynical distraction from our real obligation. All Canadians must help save coastal communities and foster opportunities for all communities that aspire to build sustainable futures.

Some politicians claim the moratorium is a fulfilment of the wishes of local Indigenous communities. Again, the government is selecting one group over another by siding with those communities that support the ban while ignoring those who oppose it. Indigenous leaders from the Nisga’a and Lax Kw’alaams nations, for example, have expressed serious concerns about the implementation of the moratorium and the lack of consultation.

Instead of pitting Canadians against each other, the government should make a better effort to find compromise among the various groups this bill affects, including the many workers across Canada who face bleak prospects if it proceeds. After all, it’s incumbent on any government to ensure that Canadians are having conversations with one other and not turning deaf ears to their neighbours.

When we stop listening, divisions in our national unity quickly form. Sadly, that’s what we’re seeing now. Fractures are developing because many affected Canadians believe that their interests are being ignored in favour of other interests. There seems to be little effort to foster dialogue or find compromise and that feels like a betrayal of one of the key tenets of our Confederation.

Bill C-48 isn’t worth that cost and shouldn’t become law as it currently stands. It is an illusion masquerading as a solution. We can all do better than that.

Perhaps some of us are forgetting that Confederation was an achievement of what John A. Macdonald called a “mutual compromise” among the joining provinces. Our constitution explicitly affirms the commitment of federal and provincial governments to “promote equal opportunities for the well-being of Canadians” and “further economic development to reduce disparity in opportunities.” Providing opportunity for all Canadians — not just one group or region — is the promise of Confederation.

It’s a principle worth keeping in mind when considering Bill C-48.

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