NDP candidates say there needs to be better management of freighter anchorages off the coast of Vancouver Island.
Cowichan-Malahat-Langford incumbent Alistair MacGregor and Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidate Bob Chamberlin were joined by retiring Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen at a meeting Monday in Nanaimo with members of the Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages Society.
MacGregor said the anchorages around the Gulf Islands were established in the 1970s without the “free, prior and informed consent” of First Nations and have now become an “overflow industrial parking lot” for port operations in Vancouver.
Members of GAFA said coal and grain freighters “loiter” for days and weeks at the more than 30 anchorage sites in the region; Transport Canada’s website says the average stay at the Gulf Islands anchorages is 8.6 days.
An anchorages initiative was announced in 2017 as part of the oceans protection plan announced by the federal Liberal government and Chris Straw, GAFA president, said the proposals have been mostly “voluntary guidelines.” His group says the freighters create emissions from idling, cause noise and light pollution, damage the ocean floor and are a security concern.
“It’s not a not-in-my-backyard-issue,” said Scott Colbourne, a Gabriola Island trustee on the Islands Trust. “It’s the fact that these are clear and present dangers to very fragile ecosystems upon which a lot of communities depend.”
MacGregor worries that increased diluted bitumen exports out of the Burrard Inlet would make the problem worse.
“What do you think that’s going to do to existing shipping traffic?” he asked. “A lot of our grain-loading facilities are in the Burrard Inlet and every time an oil tanker has to navigate through those narrows, they have to stop all traffic and if you’re going to have a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic coming through there, well, look at how bad the problem is right now and imagine what that will do to it in the future.”
GAFA says the anchors are potentially disturbing a square kilometre of ocean floor at each site.
“If somebody had proposed a project where 36 square kilometres of seabed was about to be disturbed or destroyed, there would be assessments, there would be community consultations, there would be all of this and these guys slip into this loophole,” Cullen said.
Chamberlin said when the anchorages were identified and implemented, there were not the same fisheries regulations or the same level of concern about the marine environment generally. He criticized the government’s approach to handling the issue.
“Consultation is yesterday’s law. That just leads to uncertainty, tension and a path to the courts,” he said. “Whereas by working with First Nations on consent, there is predictability, there is certainty, there is reconciliation and new environmental standards.”
Chamberlin said since the New Democrats have official party status, his party would be able to work on the anchorage issue at the committee level and research and act on it. MacGregor said anchorages shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but said he and Chamberlin can talk about their record standing up for the coast and he said better management of anchorages will continue to be a fight that he leads.
The federal election is Oct. 21 and advance polls are Oct. 11-14.