Local MP Elizabeth May says she has a “long list of issues” for the new federal transportation minister.
Omar Alghabra replaced former Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau during the recent cabinet shuffle.
May, who said she considers Alghabra a friend, said jokingly that she did not know whether to congratulate him or offer condolences in light of all the issues facing Transport Canada.
Two local issues on which May has repeatedly pressed Alghabra’s predecessor include the use of safe anchorage sites in and around the Gulf Islands for freighters waiting to unload in the Port of Vancouver. What was once a local problem contained to the Saanich Peninsula has now spread as far as Nanaimo as changes triggered by the elimination of the Wheat Board have caused delays in the transportation of grain, which have not only hurt farmers, but also threaten the local environment.
May said the increased use of local waters have led to accidents as was the case on March 30, 2020 when the MV Golden Cecilie collided with the MV Green K-Max 1 after having dragged its anchor in Plumper Sound between Saturna and South Pender Islands. May said the collision could have resulted in a fuel spill that would have damaged the ecosystem of the southern Gulf Islands, home to the endangered southern resident killer whale.
Unless the federal governments modernizes its rules around the use of anchorages, such incidents will become more likely in the future, she said.
May acknowledged that a private member’s bill from New Democratic MP Alistair MacGregor representing the Greater Victoria riding of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford banning freighters from anchoring in and around the Gulf Islands exists mainly to raise awareness, but nonetheless expressed hope that it would help lead to change.
May is also calling on Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to do a better job of protecting southern resident killer whales.
Recreational as well as commercial boaters violating rules governing specially created interim sanctuaries for the animals face little, if any serious consequences, said May, citing data from the Saturna Sighting Network, claiming that more than 60 per cent of sighted boats are guilty of various infractions. Yet even “the most egregious violators only received a written warning,” said May elsewhere. “It’s not adequate to give verbal or written warnings. Violators must face penalties.”
The sanctuary zones are part and parcel of measures designed to protect the animals against threats such as noise and human fishing activity.
With some exceptions, the measures prohibit fishing and boating in the sanctuary zones along parts of North Pender Island’s western shore and parts of Saturna’s Island southeastern shorts from June 1 to Nov. 30. The measures also prohibit commercial and recreational salmon fishing in several areas west and north of North Pender Island and to the southwest of Saturna Island. Other parts of the Juan de Fuca Strait are also subject to measures prohibiting commercial and recreational salmon fishing for certain periods.
May said the federal government not only has a legislative duty to protect the animals from an ecological perspective, but also an economic imperative as the animals help to sustain the local tourism industry.
Other transportation issues on the radar include air traffic noise concerns from residents of Saanich’s Cordova Bay neighbourhood as well as the future of Wilson Bus Lines, which May describes as a “cornerstone species” whose disappearance would hurt the local economy and undermine transportation links between Greater Victoria and other parts of Vancouver Island and beyond.
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