B.C. Senator Larry Campbell has told a Sunshine Coast resident of Scandinavian descent to “move to your previous Europe,” “get some help for your social anxiety,” and “enjoy your make-believe world” after she wrote to Campbell and other senators urging them to support Bill C-48.
The bill, which would effectively ban large oil tanker traffic along B.C.’s north coast from the tip of northern Vancouver Island to Alaska, was recently rejected by the Senate’s transport committee after passing third reading in Parliament, where it was supported by MPs from four out of five political parties.
Ann Haglund emailed all 105 senators on May 22 urging them to back the bill, which formalizes a voluntary oil tanker moratorium that has existed for more than 30 years. The Senate can vote to pass the bill despite the transport committee’s 6-6 deadlock vote that meant the committee did not recommend the bill for passage into law.
Campbell, who doesn’t sit on the transport committee, was only one of two senators to respond with more than a courtesy acknowledgement of Haglund’s communication.
Email exchange personifies Canada’s growing divide over oil extraction
But Campbell’s return message was far from what Haglund was expecting and a terse email exchange ensued between the two — one that personifies the growing divide in Canada over the future of oil extraction amidst a growing climate crisis.
After Haglund emailed Campbell telling him that Europe is leading the rest of the world in phasing out gas-powered vehicles, saying Canada should be a leader, “not a follower,” and suggesting that Campbell wanted Canada to follow in “your brother Trump’s ways,” the senator became condescending.
“It is clear that while you can whine and complain you personally do nothing,” he shot back on an email from his iPhone that was part of the heated exchange, shared with The Narwhal by a third party.
“Eventually you might mature although I doubt it. . . Like most of your ridiculous statements you suppose rather than find truth. Given all of you[r] weird statements I’d recommend you get some help for your social anxiety.”
Campbell, the former mayor of Vancouver, did not return a call and email from The Narwhal.
‘Extremely problematic’ for unelected Senate to veto majority will
The loaded comments from the independent senator come as Bill C-48 risks derailment in the wake of intense lobbying of senators by the oil industry and as the unelected Senate tests the limits of its power following reforms introduced by the Trudeau government.
If the oil tanker ban — promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the last federal election campaign — is rejected or stalled by the Senate without going to Parliament for royal assent before the current legislative session ends June 21, it will die on the order paper.
“It strikes me as being extremely problematic that an unelected body is trying to veto the will of a majority government that was elected on a promise to ban oil tankers on the north coast of B.C.,” George Hoberg, a political scientist in environment and natural resource policy at UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, told The Narwhal.
“I think the Senate has been able to maintain some legitimacy by not overstepping its role historically.”
Senate ‘lobbied heavily’ to reject Bill C-48
Only rarely has the Senate, whose members are appointed by the governing political party, ever vetoed bills. Yet Bill C-48 is not the only bill currently held up in the Red Chamber as members test new rules aimed at transforming the Senate into a non-partisan chamber.
Also stalled are a bill introduced by former interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose that would require training for judges in sexual-assault law and Bill C-69, which overhauls the review process for major projects, including pipelines.
MP Nathan Cullen, whose riding of Skeena- Bulkley Valley includes the north coast, said senators have been lobbied in an “an exhaustive effort” by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), individual oil companies and groups with special interests.
“It’s affecting bills from different parties,” Cullen said in an interview. “Yet there’s a common theme where the Senate has been lobbied heavily and maybe feels like it has the authority to reject bills that the Canadian people democratically voted for.”
Enbridge, Imperial Oil, CAPP all lobbied senators
From November 20 to April 11, CAPP lobbied senators 19 times, meeting up to four senators on the same day, according to the federal lobbyist registry.
Records show that CAPP lobbied Alberta independent Senator Paula Simons, who cast the deciding transport committee vote recommending that the Senate reject Bill C-48, on three different occasions during that time period.
Sixteen individual oil and pipeline companies and groups also lobbied a slew of individual senators from November 2018 to the end of April 2019, reporting a total of 122 lobbying communications with senators, including with more than one senator at a time, according to the registry.
Those companies and groups included Enbridge, Imperial Oil, TransCanada and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.
Cullen said the new Senate rules — which have left a majority of senators sitting as independents and Conservative senators as the only remaining overtly partisan group in the chamber — have “emboldened” senators, even though they are not elected and not accountable to Canadians.
“The well-connected lobbyists have come to realize that this might be an avenue for them to have influence,” Cullen said.
“That also creates a difficult scenario for Canadians because they can’t afford lobbyists to take folks out for dinner.”
Coastal First Nations call lobbying ‘very concerning’
As the clock ticks down to the end of the legislative session, Coastal First Nations sent an open letter to Parliamentarians this week noting that the pledge to formalize the tanker moratorium tanker ban was popularly endorsed when the Liberals won the 2015 election.
“We are asking you in this letter to abide by the wishes of the electorate and, moreover, to respect your own constitutional role as an appointed chamber,” Coastal First Nations Chief Marilyn Slett told senators in the letter.
In an interview with The Narwhal, Slett emphasized that Coastal First Nations have lived along B.C.’s coast for 700 generations and rely on the coastal economy for their well-being.
“The efforts of others with special interests is very concerning,” said Slett, who is also chief of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council.
“We’d bear the outcome from any [oil tanker spills] that would happen on the coast of British Columbia. . . We’ve seen some of the catastrophes that have happened and we’ve lived through the Nathan E. Stewart spill, which is quite small compared to the grand scheme of what could happen on our waters.”
In October 2016, the Nathan E. Stewart, a 30-metre tugboat owned by the Kirby Corporation based in Houston, Texas, ploughed into a reef near the community of Bella Bella in the heart of Heiltsuk territory.
The accident sent more than 110,000 litres of diesel fuel and more than 2,000 litres of lubricant into the fast-moving currents of Seaforth Channel, contaminating a rich Heiltsuk harvest ground containing more than 25 food items, including sea cucumber, rockfish and halibut.
“People harvested everything there, clams and kelp,” Slett said. “It was a spiritual site. The clam fishing closed for two years. That’s the winter economy for our people. It gets them through the winter.”
Two and a half years later, there is still no environmental impact assessment for the spill, Slett noted.
She said the coastal economy should not be put at stake “for the interests of private industry or a few individuals.”
“This is something we just can’t do.”
Majority of coastal Indigenous communities support oil tanker ban
The majority of Indigenous communities along the coast support bill C-48.
They include the Haida, Heiltsuk, Haisla, Metlakatla, Gitga’at, Kitasoo, Gitxaala and the hereditary leaders of the Lax Kw’alaams.
The elected council of Lax Kw’alaams opposes the oil tanker ban, as does the Nisga’a.
In March, when federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau appeared before the Senate transport committee, he pointed out that two groups vocally opposed to the ban — the proposed Eagle Spirit Pipeline and Aboriginal Equity Partners, representing oil and gas producing First Nations and Metis along the rejected Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline route — represent private commercial interests.
“I do not see them as being in the same category as coastal First Nations and Indigenous communities,” Garneau said. “The stakes are very different for private sector interests than for communities who would see potentially their livelihoods, culture and way of life imperiled by a serious oil spill.”
Hoberg said he views the controversy around Bill C-48 as a reflection of the increasing polarization of Canadian politics “and especially of the divide between the Alberta, or Prairie, view of things and the rest of Canada’s view of things.”
“This ethic has developed in Alberta represented most forcefully by [Premier Jason] Kenney but also by [former Premier Rachel] Notley before him,” Hoberg said.
“That whole ethic is basically that it’s completely inappropriate for constraints to be placed on the Alberta oil industry. And that’s an absurd notion given the environmental risks and the social risks involved in large scale oil production and especially given the climate emergency.”
Garneau: other countries could send oil tankers along north coast if bill fails
Garneau told the Senate transport committee that if Canada allows crude oil tankers along the north coast there’s nothing to stop other countries from sending large oil tankers into the area as well.
The tanker ban dates back to 1985, when the Canadian Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard and industry developed a voluntary oil tanker exclusion zone along B.C.’s north coastline.
The voluntary ban was instituted “due to concerns by Canada about the potentially devastating impacts of a major oil tanker spill off the coast of British Columbia.” Garneau told the committee.
“The legislation is a critical step forward in fulfilling our government’s pledge to achieve a world-leading marine safety system that promotes responsible shipping and protects Canada’s waters,” said Garneau, whose mandate letter from Trudeau included instructions to formalize the tanker ban.
Similar bans exist in the United States in Puget Sound and in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. There is also a moratorium on large oil tankers in the Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia and in the Turkish Straits.
Cullen said Bill C-48 is running out of time to become law and the Senate needs to send the bill back to the House within the next week, especially if there are any amendments.
“We’re running out of runway,” he said.
“Senators. . . don’t have a mandate from Canadians. They don’t face that responsibility of going back to voters. Therefore, they have to advise and recommend. But they cannot become the authorities on legislation because they simply don’t have the democratic backing to do it.”