Open Letter to Don Martin: Ignatieff's Tanker Ban Policy Is Sound

Dear Don,

I just read your piece criticizing Ignatieff's support for a federal tanker ban and I think it does your readers a disservice.

First things first, a recent poll shows that 80% of British Columbians support a legislated tanker ban in BC's coastal waters. Assuming politicians are effective when they follow the will of voters, Ignatieff's policy would appear to be smart, sound and to borrow your allusions to oil, "slick."

Your piece also falls short of a true "apples to apples" comparison when you compare Vancouver as a petrochemical import/export zone, to Kitimat, and use it as an excuse to allow Enbridge's project.

A key difference that's worth keeping in mind when Kitimat is described as being "too dangerous," is that the Georgia Straight (where tankers travel on their way to Vancouver) is a hell of a lot safer than the Hectate Sraight or the Dixon Entrance where tankers would travel on their way to Kitimat - those waters are some of the most dangerous in the province (known for massive storms, and hard to navigate channels and navigation hazards). The sheer volume of the oil to be transported via the pipeline would also far eclipse anything happening in Vancouver.

All that aside, the question of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline is about weighing whether or not we as a society want to introduce a far greater ecological risk to one of our province's most ecologically rich areas in exchange for an estimated 560 long-term jobs (a drop in the bucket) and greater revenue for an already very rich industry (not to mention the climate change implications of shipping and burning tar sands oil as fast as possible in/to Asian markets). A majority of the First Nations who's territories the pipeline would pass through on its way to Kitimat are unequivocally opposed to the project, precisely because its risks far outweigh the benefits to them. I won't even get into issues of Aboriginal land title, although it would be nice if project boosters didn't gloss over the very real social and legal obstacles this project will face with respect to First Nations consultation, and which Ignatieff's policy can be seen to be taking into consideration on some level.

Ignatieff's policy is sound and responsible, and contrary to your contention that it represents a move, " shut down northern B.C. tanker traffic because it's a popular move in a time of short-term environmental anxiety," I'd contend that it represents sober policy making in a time of frenzied, short-term tar sands development. If the oil patch and its boosters had their way, the resource would be sold and burned within 100 years, pushing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and related climate change beyond the point of "no return."

Personally, I think the tar sands need to be cleaned up, their production slowed down to a level commensurate with what climate science suggests is a sustainable level of C02 release, and then Albertans need to wake up and collect the real resource royalties they're entitled to. Pandering to the oil industry in a time of record prices and profit, as appears to be the status quo, is sad. What's the plan when the oil is gone? Alberta could learn a thing or two from Norway, a country that has taxed its petroleum industry, and has managed to save billions in a national pension plan in anticipation of the decline (already happening) of that same petroleum production.

I hope you'll incorporate some of these considerations into your future commentary on Canada's tar sands development, and ill-conceived projects like Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. I think your readers would appreciate a more well-rounded, nuanced view of the true risks, benefits and lost economic opportunities associated with the current approach to development.

Best regards,

Andrew Frank.