A controversial bill concerning oil transport will be seen as an attack on Saskatchewan and Alberta if approved, senators heard at a public hearing in Regina Wednesday.
"I don't think Canadians understand the magnitude of what's happening here," John Hopkins, CEO for Regina & District Chamber of Commerce, told senators on a committee hearing arguments for and against Bill C-48.
The bill would prohibit tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of oil from docking along B.C.'s north coast, an area that stretches from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border.
It was introduced after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet vetoed Northern Gateway — a project that would have carried crude from Alberta through northern B.C. to a tanker terminal in Kitimat for export to Asia.
Hopkins said Bill C-48 comes amidst wider efforts from environmentalists and outside groups to keep Canadian oil resources in the ground, despite the oil being produced under stringent environmental regulations and planning.
"If the bill goes forward, it's going to continue to alienate Western Canadians," he said, following his presentation to the senate committee.
"Confederation's important to all of us. Hopefully we'll see cooler heads prevail."
Diametrically opposed views
Independent senator Julie Miville-Dechêne noted senators on the Transport and Communications committee have been travelling to hear from communities that hold diametrically opposed views.
In British Columbia, most coastal Indigenous nations and non-Indigenous residents support the tanker ban, and want to see their way of life and fisheries protected against the risk of an oil spill, she said.
It makes it very difficult because it has been portrayed as an issue pitting provinces, one against the other, environmentalists against oil industry interest.
- Senator Julie Miville-Dechene
In Alberta, the bill is viewed as discriminatory and opposed to economic interests of the province, further limiting the province's ability to get its product to tidewater, she said.
"It makes it very difficult because it has been portrayed as an issue pitting provinces, one against the other, environmentalists against oil industry interest," she said, adding the looming threat of climate change hangs over the whole issue.
"To be very frank, there's huge division."
The committee is made up of 12 senators: five Conservatives who oppose the bill, one Liberal and six independents.
Miville-Dechêne said that as an Independent senator, she's keeping an open mind and listening to all the witnesses before deciding how she will vote on the bill.
Saskatchewan mayors and industry representatives were scheduled to speak throughout the day on Wednesday.
The Senate committee will next travel back to Ottawa to hear from more witnesses, before making a report to the entire chamber in mid-May, according to Miville-Dechêne.