If you were hoping federal Budget 2017 would shine a light on Ottawa’s plans for marine oil spill response in B.C., you’re out of luck.
It was back in November that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1.5-billion over five years for an Oceans Protection Plan.
Left unsaid at the time? How much would come to B.C., and how much would go specifically to spill response.
Those details remain unclear.
The Oceans Protection Plan gets little mention in the document, save for a basic, bundled accounting of how that $1.5-billion will be split across the next few years ($216-million of it being spent in 2017/18), and a detail-free featurette box.
Unsaid in Budget 2017 is how much will flow to different government departments, provinces, or programs.
With the money being spread across three coasts, and with a pledge to farm it out across dozens of initiatives ranging from search and rescue, to arctic icebreakers, to Atlantic lifeboat stations, it raises questions of just how much will be spent on actual spill response capability.
Indeed, the word “spill response” appears only twice in the document, in reference to encouraging greater First Nations participation in spill response, and increasing scientific collaboration and investment in research – in neither case attaching a dollar figure.
B.C.’s marine spill response capability has been criticized as unprepared for a major disaster, particularly in the wake of the sinking of the tug Nathan E. Stewart near Bella Bella.
In that incident, responders took nearly a full day to arrive at the grounded tug, crews struggled to work in rough sea conditions, and around 100,000 litres of leaked diesel went unrecovered.
Back in February, Minister Responsible for the Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans Domenic LeBlanc announced one of the few, concrete B.C. provisions to come from the OPP as of yet: a Primary Environmental Response Team (PERT) near Port Hardy.
In November of last year, Ottawa approved the controversial Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion which will terminate in Burnaby, which critics say will dangerously raise the number of tankers passing through B.C.’s waters.
In January, the governing BC Liberals approved the project, saying the federal government had met one of the province’s “five conditions:” a “world-class marine spill response.”