VICTORIA -- A vote to curtail oil tanker traffic through B.C.'s coastal waters was nearly too close to call at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Thursday.
Barely more than 51 per cent of local government delegates endorsed the resolution put forward by the District of Saanich for the union to lobby against projects, such as Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline, that would promote the expansion of crude-carrying vessels.
"Any more increase of this traffic, the tankers going to the U.S. and Asia, would increase the risk of an oil spill and long term impacts on the marine environment and human health," said Saanich Coun. Vicki Sanders.
Prince George Mayor Shari Green was the first to speak against the proposal, saying that not only would curbing oil tanker traffic not matter if there were a spill outside of the Canadian boundary, but also more importantly that it was sending the wrong economic signal.
"We have one pie and we're asking the province to slice up more pieces of it for us, and yet we're making decisions that are going to shrink the pie of this province," Green said. "I'm pretty concerned about that."
Thompson-Nicola Regional District director Tim Pennell echoed Green's concerns, saying the resolution and any subsequent action would be saying no to pipeline projects before they've gone through the environmental assessment process.
"It will stymie economic development and close opportunities to expand distribution networks throughout the province," he said. "Many areas, such as my own, do not have gas services and this is an opportunity to build off of that network."
But supporters who spoke up during the nearly 15-minute long debate called attention to catastrophic oil spills still wreaking havoc on nearby ecologies, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"They say it's not a question of if, it's a question of when," said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt.
Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun didn't get to speak to the resolution before debate was cut off, but said he voted in support of Saanich's proposal as a way to "stand shoulder to shoulder with the First Nations communities, the coastal communities and any other communities that might be affected by this massive oil tanker traffic."
Kamloops Coun. Donovan Cavers said he also voted in support of the resolution on a fundamental question.
"Should we be expanding our use of fossil fuels?" he asked. "It's not so much about particular issues of pipelines and projects like that. Where should we be putting our energy with our knowledge of climate change right now?"