When is a moratorium not a moratorium?

Elizabeth May

June 2nd’s Times Colonist broke the news that Enbridge claims both the federal and BC government have assured them that “there is no legislated moratorium on oil tankers entering BC ports.”

Enbridge hopes to gain permits to run a pipeline for bitumen from the tar sands to the port of Kitimat, and from there, to tanker traffic to China.  The over-land pipeline route through pristine wilderness of northern BC is opposed by every First Nation along the route, as well as by environmental groups, the federal NDP and, of course, the Green Party.

The moratorium against oil and gas exploration and development and tanker traffic along BC’s coastline has been in place since 1972. 

I was in the House today and at Question Period.  Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis referred to the moratorium issue, saying that there was a moratorium against oil and gas development offshore BC, and a “voluntary moratorium against oil tanker traffic.”

What on earth is a “voluntary moratorium?”  Clearly, the oil tankers are not staying away voluntarily.  For nearly the last 40 years, the BC coastline has been protected by a government enforced policy that barred access to the BC coast by tankers.  The moratorium was a matter of policy and not legislated, but that hardly makes it “voluntary.”

While Paradis repeated his stock answer to Jack Layton (and thanks to Jack for raising this), John Baird, Minister of Transport heckled loudly across the space “How many cars on Vancouver Island run on gas?”  Yuck yuck, said his grin. “How you going to get a plane to BC with no gas?”

The government’s position was clearer in Baird’s heckling than in Paradis’ parsing of language. 

So as the oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico, the only thing protecting the BC coastline is an engaged and informed citizenry.  We need a law.