On the eve of the arrival of Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau in Bella Bella to tour the area of a fuel spill, the Heiltsuk First Nation says a ministerial visit is not enough.
Heiltsuk incident commander Jess Housty says in order to make effective changes from Ottawa, the spill needs to be seen firsthand.
That’s why Housty is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pay a visit.
“It’s very critical. It would demonstrate strong leadership to have Trudeau come here and face the situation head on and not deputize someone else to do it. But for Trudeau to really symbolize that nation to nation relationship, not just when it’s a sexy photo-op but when it’s a hard time and we need someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with us,” she said.
Housty hopes a visit from Garneau will drive the message to Ottawa that maritime transportation needs tighter regulations and better response coordination.
“I think that’s what a good leader would do. I think the situation really drives home the reality that you can’t make effective decisions from Ottawa without clearly understanding the conditions on the ground and the places that you purport to manage. He has an excellent opportunity here to hear firsthand from people who have been first responders to a really tragic situation,” she said.
Meanwhile, the cleanup effort continues despite bad weather.
Rough seas have made containing the leaked diesel difficult, in some cases snapping booms that had been laid.
Diesel has also made it to a number of local beaches, forcing the closure of the winter clam fishery, and the Heiltsuk have reported a variety of dead wildlife in the area.
Ottawa and the company tasked with spill response have faced blistering criticism since the incident – with the main response effort taking between 17 and 22 hours to arrive on scene from the time the tug went down.
Crews have since pumped the remaining fuel from its tanks, but the tugboat remains submerged under water, as weather is hindering crews from salvaging the vessel.
While the Nation is still surveying the extent of the damage, it says conversations have already begun about making a legal case against the vessel’s owners, Texas-based Kirby Offshore.
With files from Simon Little