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REPORTING · 14th June 2012
Walter McFarlane
Simon Barker, a Legal Specialist on Marine Liability with Enbridge Northern Gateway stepped up to present on Marine transportation at the Regular Meeting of Council on June 4th. Mayor Joanne Monaghan stated she had already seen the presentation with several of her City Councillors at the Chamber of Commerce.

“Oil has been a particular interest and has also been a specialty for many, many years. It was my specialty when I was with the Coastguard,” said Barker.

He explained liability and compensation was a difficult subject. It is one third of a triangle, with the other two pieces being preparedness and response, as the three go together.

As ship technology, design, the training of responders and Techniques get better, a third of the equation is complete.

“Oil will always get out of ships. It is the nature of the beast. Transportation of oil by sea is convenient because it’s a large product, large ships, it’s easy to move. Accidents do happen, they always do. Not big accidents, small accidents, but occasionally you get large situations,” said Barker.

The second part of the puzzle is a swift, cost effective response in place. The third part is figuring out who is responsible. If the ship owner does not pay for it, it is time to look at the insurance companies and funds in case the insurance company does not have enough money.

“I’m proud to say the Canadian system works well. We have a system that is based in the Federal Government. We have confederation and a constitution and shipping and navigation is a Federal head of power under the constitution act,” said Barker. “For a tanker spill in this country, the amount of money on the table is 1.3 billion dollars. There is money out there in case of an incident.”

He pointed out preparedness is the area of Transport Canada. There is a system in place which is working, response is under the Canadian Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans. They have a working system in place in the private sector.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that the local community is not a vital piece of the puzzle. Don’t let anyone say that ‘because it’s a Federal Jurisdiction and because it’s an international system that the local community does not have a roll because the ships are passing your doorstep,” said Barker.

He expressed it is easy to blame the ship owner when there is a problem. The ship owner however looks to the local authorities for help. Their emergency plan is about coordinating the local authorities to save the crew and the ship. The system breaks down when the triangle breaks down.

He pointed out Vancouver’s tanker motion is outside their jurisdiction. Ships are Federal and pushing the bylaw could be unconstitutional. However, the frustration levels of the municipality have grown to the point where they feel they have to protect their municipality. It comes from the Federal Government dumping on them and cutting away support for their safety.

Barker encouraged Council to ask the right questions, understand the system and probe the weak links of the triangle. The issue could be about who is liable for an oil spill, who will pay for an oil spill, who will clean up and oil spill or how do they prevent an oil spill in the first place.

He stated if they ask the right questions of the right people, they will get the right answers. “Pollution control is good business but we also know that the marine environment is in danger and we are trying to find the best balance to accommodate those two things,” concluded Barker.

While he made it in at the ten minute mark, he would be answering questions for the next twenty.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff asked if the response and Federal / Provincial responsibilities were the weak side of the triangle. Barker did not know where the weak link was. The responders have to know what to do in a 10,000 barrel spill. The three parts of the triangle are a movable object because issues change from year to year.

Councillor Phil Germuth said he appreciated the honesty about how accidents can happen and the focus on the government’s spending cuts to environmental. Councillor Rob Goffinet similar praised him for being a responsible expert. He stated the government cuts would affect the preparedness and the response. Goffinet asked if the risk on the south coast would be heightened on the North Coast.

“I say this from my gut,” said Barker. He has been involved in this business for a long time and knows the people in British Columbia. He knocked on wood and apologized to the community for his next statement.

“If there is to be a spill in Canada, I hope it’s in the West Coast because you will deal with it better then anybody else. That’s a difficult thing to say,” said Barker.

He explained if there was a spill in Vancouver, the pollution countermeasures would be moved into British Columbia from other provinces. The people in BC were good at their jobs and are the best in Canada. He stated the risk is higher elsewhere.

He explained Canada is a country of resources, and people who came to this country to get those resources. We have trees and tar sands, oil and pipelines. We have it and someone else wants it, how do we get it to market?

He compared this to a railroad. Kitimat is on the train line so why should we bare the brunt of the train going past the community and causing a problem while knowing the railroad has to go past the town.

Barker explained the people who are involved will know their job. The biggest risk is where the hose connects to the ship. He explained if the ship is at fault, the ship should pay, if the terminal is at fault, the terminal should pay. He asked Council to ask the right questions and the right answers will go out.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan wanted to know if there was more crude oil on a cruise ship then on a VLCC. Barker explained there is more bunker fuel on a cruise ship then oil tankers which transport oil to coastal communities and some carry more oil then small tankers. He pointed out this could cause more of a problem then a pipeline but is not as well talked about.

Councillor Mary Murphy thanked Barker thanked him for the presentation. She expressed prevention needed to be focused on. She thanked him for watering it down for the community.

Barker explained the topic he is talking about would take two full weeks in teaching coast guard recruits. The people who will be responding will have more then the ten minutes. However, they need to coordinate with Council so both groups could mobilize at three in the morning.

There were no further questions so he left.