VANCOUVER — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a $1.5-billion plan Monday to make Canada a "world leader" in ocean protection after a diesel spill on British Columbia's central coast and as a decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion looms.
Trudeau said the money will be spent over five years starting in 2017-18 and includes funding to create a marine safety system, restoring ocean ecosystems, and new methods and research to clean up oil spills. The government said changes will be seen as early as next year, such as opening a Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's, N.L.
While few details were revealed, Trudeau said the funding will strengthen the Canadian Coast Guard, get tough on industry pollution, fund coastal habitat restoration and create legislation to increase responsibility for vessel owners.
The announcement came a day after a barge flipped and sank not far from the site on B.C.'s central coast where a tug ran aground last month, spilling more than 100,000 litres of diesel fuel from its tanks.
"The ongoing incident at Bella Bella is unacceptable. I know this, you know this, Canadians know this," said Trudeau, who made the announcement in Vancouver's Stanley Park, right next to Burrard Inlet.
"It's time for a change. As a community we need to protect our magnificent oceans and reopening the Kitsilano Coast Guard base was an important first step."
The federal government looked extensively at what a world-class system would look like, said Trudeau, citing Norway and Alaska as examples.
The plan also sets the stage for the possible approval of the $6.8-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Trudeau's cabinet is expected to announce a decision on the project by Dec. 19.
The expansion would triple the bitumen-carrying capacity of the pipeline from near Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., and increase the number of tankers leaving Vancouver-area waters seven-fold.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark has long insisted that her government would not allow new heavy oil pipelines unless five conditions were met, including a "world leading" spill response regime.
The provincial and federal governments have been in talks to develop a West Coast marine spill response system for much of the past year.
The B.C. government identified 11 gaps that needed to be filled, including clarification on the Liberals' election promise of a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic off the northern B.C. coast.
Asked why the plan makes no mention of a tanker ban, Trudeau said there would be more to say in the coming weeks.
The plan also didn't specifically address any of the B.C. government's demands, including a coast guard base at Prince Rupert, a West Coast marine training centre and three new salvage vessels strategically located along the coast to be able to arrive at spill sites within three hours.
However, Clark said she had been briefed on the plan and believed it would address B.C.'s concerns.
"There's so much devil in the details," she said. "We've got a little more work to do, but I have to say, I have no cause for complaint with what we've seen today."
Still, Clark replied "no" when asked whether the plan had met one of her conditions for Trans Mountain pipeline approval.
Trudeau's news conference drew protesters opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. A number of environmental groups released statements welcoming improvements to oil spill cleanup while opposing the Trans Mountain proposal.
Kai Nagata of the Dogwood Initiative said Trudeau appeared to be backtracking on ambitious environmental promises he made while campaigning last fall.
"I don't think that an announcement in better spill response capacity is the best way to prevent oil spills from happening in the first place," he said in an interview.
The decision to reopen a search and rescue sub-centre in St. John's was also welcomed by a union representing workers in the fishing industry on the East Coast.
"The previous federal government attempted to cut costs and balance the books at the expense of marine safety," said Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union.
Sullivan said the sub-centre would provide an effective response to vessels in distress on the Atlantic.
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