Friday, 02 December 2016 09:08

Vancouver Sun Op-ed published Dec. 2, 2016

Opinion: Canadian prosperity rests on safe shipment of products — including oil


By Robert Lewis-Manning
President, Chamber of Shipping

The government of Canada’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project shines a spotlight on marine transportation and the unquestionable reality that Canada is a trading nation. The positive effects attending the decision to approve this $6.8-billion infrastructure project go well beyond the significant and sustained economic benefits anticipated for Alberta and B.C.

As Canadians, our prosperity and generally high standard of living depends on being able to responsibly and competitively deliver our resources, products and services globally. The reality is that one in five Canadian jobs and more than 60 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product are directly linked to exports such as oil and other energy products, metals and minerals, wood products, fertilizer, grain, chemicals, and manufactured goods. The Port of Vancouver, the largest port in Canada, supports commerce with more than 170 trading economies worldwide.

As with our railways and highways, our marine waterways sustain our economy, and like those other transportation systems it is vital to our interests to manage them in a sustainable fashion.

There are well over 10,000 vessel movements annually that transit B.C.’s west coast safely and without incident. These transits are executed by professional mariners who have extensive training and experience and employ innovative technology that is as advanced as modern airliners. They are responsible and accountable for peoples’ lives, high-valued assets and cargoes and managing risk in a dynamic environment.

The planning for the movement of large vessels includes risk analysis, advanced modelling and simulation and a safety framework that includes internal safety management systems, a third-party vetting process by the owners of cargo and extensive federal regulations and inspection regimes.

Notwithstanding, there will always be some degree of risk and a combination of conditions that is problematic to predict. While some people might prefer zero risk, this is likely an unrealistic scenario for a nation that is profoundly dependent on marine transportation. The challenge that demands our utmost attention is the relatively small portion of risk that could have significant consequences.

In Canada, we are incredibly fortunate to have some of the best and brightest academics, scientists, government officials, marine professionals and innovators. Canada’s on-the-water presence includes an increasingly capable Coast Guard, Navy and police forces. We have been given the opportunity and reason to significantly improve the safety and protection regime for Canada’s coasts and now is the time to turn ideas and policies into tangible effects.

While the $1.5-billion value of the recently announced federal Oceans Protection Plan is unprecedented, it is the intent that is truly transformational and deserves recognition. This plan includes embraces an ecosystem-based approach, melding traditional risk planning with impact analysis. It also includes scientific benchmarking to better understand and mitigate the impacts of industrial and other activity on our oceans. Finally, it embraces co-management of our oceans with Indigenous People and will leverage their inherent knowledge and proximity of the coast.

A commitment to marine safety should include those communities that best understand the local environmental conditions and potential impact on marine ecosystems and could be involved in responding and mitigating the impact of a marine incident. It is time to turn the passion and energy into delivery of tangible results that builds real trust, real capabilities and real protection.

Canada’s prosperity and high standard of living depend on our ability to responsibly and competitively deliver our resources, products and services globally. We may continue to debate the mix of products transported on our marine waterways but we can achieve consensus about marine safety measures. The Oceans Protection Plan is an effective way to reach this shared objective.

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