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Skating Around the Tanker Issue

A well known Victoria, British Columbia radio talk show host once told local  Conservative MP (Member of Parliament) Gary Lunn on air that he was such a  good skater (as in skating around the issues) that he should be competing in  the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.

As Canada’s federal Minister of Natural Resources, the pro-nuclear, pro-asbestos, pro-offshore oil drilling Lunn is a throwback to the infamous Reagan-era American Secretary of the Interior James Watt, sans the born-again religiosity. Lunn’s industrial evangelicalism is entirely secular, but appears just as fervent.

In a recent letter to the editor to a Victoria newspaper Lunn once again  proved that he can skate with the best of them. Lunn stated that “the  federal government steadfastly maintains all existing tanker restrictions,  particularly the tanker exclusion zone.”  It was fairly obvious that  Lunn  was carefully parsing his words in an attempt to escape the criticism he has  been receiving over his constant hedging on the oil tanker issue. The  current debate swirling around oil tankers in B.C. has much to do with  various politicians acknowledging or rejecting that a moratorium actually  exists.

Lunn went on to essentially obfuscate the matter by conveniently neglecting to  define the phrase “existing tanker restrictions.” But the spectre of an  Exxon Valdez type catastrophe playing out on the province’s magnificent  coast has British Columbians casting a skeptical eye at Lunn’s hazy  protestations.

In the June 9, 2007 edition of the Times Colonist, Judith Lavoie reported  the following:

There has never been a moratorium on oil tankers in B.C.’s northern inside  waters, says Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn.

Despite a widespread belief that tankers are banned from the unpredictable  waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance, and  government documents referring to a moratorium, it never really existed,  Lunn said in an interview.

“There has never been a moratorium,” he said. “There’s a voluntary exclusion  zone for tanker traffic that comes from Alaska down to the Strait of Juan de  Fuca.”

Also writing in June 2007, the Tyee’s Richard Warnica stated that “Gary  Lunn, the federal minister of natural resources, is trying to push nuclear  power, rev up the oil sands, and make way for more pipelines and  supertankers on B.C.’s coast. He also happens to represent one of the most  environmentally conscious ridings in the country, Saanich-Gulf Islands.”

Blogging on his website “Paying Attention” in July 2007, Paul  Willcocks wrote:

…”There actually is no moratorium for traffic coming into the West Coast,”  he [Lunn] says…American companies have been willing to stay out of  B.C. waters, but there’s nothing to say they couldn’t start sailing through  tomorrow, according to Lunn…There hasn’t been any other kind of tanker  traffic in the past. B.C. hasn’t imported or exported oil or gas products  through its ports. But the Alberta oil sands could change that. There are  five pipeline proposals to link Alberta with Prince Rupert or Kitimat. Some  would transport crude; some would send condensate, used to produce the heavy  oil, to Alberta.

A February 2006 story by Leanne Ritchie in the Prince Rupert Daily News  stated that “a Transport Canada spokesperson said the voluntary tanker  exclusion zone that prevents U.S. oil tankers from traveling through Hecate  Strait won’t apply to Enbridge’s proposal to ship oil from the North Coast.”

Lunn also claims in his April 26 letter to the editor that “with respect to the  offshore oil and gas moratorium, it remains unchanged, in effect and  supported by our government.” He subsequently makes the assertion that he  has consistently made this point numerous times.

That technically may be the case, but when it comes to the 35 year old  tanker moratorium, the only thing Lunn seems to be consistent about is that  he doesn’t believe such a moratorium exists…or does he?

Writing in the Globe and Mail in April 2007, David Beers declared  that “one who is leading the charge [to lift the tanker ban] is Minister of  Natural Resources Gary Lunn, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands…”

In a June 2007 news item in the Goldstream Gazette, Brennan  Clarke reported that Lunn “told the Canadian Press there is no moratorium on  tanker traffic. Lunn acknowledged there is a moratorium on offshore  drilling, but said restrictions on tanker traffic amounts to a voluntary  exclusion zone.”

Covering the tanker debate for Pacific Yachting magazine’s October 2007  issue, Hilary Henegar wrote:

The federal government has been accused by environmentalists (among others)  of scheming to enable companies to skirt the moratorium. In fact, Minister  Lunn, a Conservative leading the charge to bring oil tankers into B.C.  waters, has stated in the past that there is no moratorium…

However, at a July 10 press conference in which Prime Minister Stephen  Harper participated, Minister Lunn recanted his original position, saying,  “In terms of the tanker traffic, there is a voluntary moratorium. That’s the  legal state in play which has been an effective prohibition for a period of  time, and we don’t see any anticipation of that breaking down.”

The record shows that with regard to the tanker moratorium Lunn’s public  statements are evasive and lack clarity. It would be gratifying to be able  to commend Lunn for taking a strong stand to protect B.C.’s coast, but how  can British Columbians have any confidence in what their federal minister  of natural resources says on the subject given his ongoing ambiguity and  equivocation?

CHRIS GENOVALI is the executive director of Raincoast Conservation Society. He can be reached at: chris@raincoast.org

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