CALGARY – Aboriginal chiefs backing a pipeline through northern British Columbia plan to challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “ill-conceived” moratorium on oil tanker traffic off the northern section of Canada’s West Coast.

“I think it’s for the betterment of the country that we do challenge it,” Woodland Cree Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom said Monday of the federal Liberal government’s planned tanker ban.

The Liberals introduced Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, on Friday to stop tankers from shipping oil through ports in northern B.C.

“The decision to do that impairs not only the people on the coast but it impairs the diverse Canadian economy,” Laboucan-Avriom said, adding there was “absolutely a lack of consultation.”

Laboucan-Avirom is a member of the chiefs’ council for Eagle Spirit Energy, which he describes as “the largest First Nations endeavour in the world” and has proposed a $14 billion pipeline between Fort McMurray, Alta. and Prince Rupert, B.C.

Eagle Spirit is a private company and is supported by prominent Canadian business executives including the Aquilini Group, which owns the Vancouver Canucks, and AltaCorp Capital chairman and CEO George Gosbee.

Eagle Spirit president Calvin Helin said his company will decide whether or not to oppose the legislation after meeting the chiefs’ council.

“This is their project,” Helin said, adding, “there’s real resentment that there was no consultation about implementing a moratorium.”

Martin Louie, a hereditary leader with the Carrier Sekani, said he opposed Northern Gateway but supports Eagle Spirit and sits on the project’s chiefs’ council because the project has agreed to be assessed by aboriginal groups.

“We proposed a different method of assessment on traditional land,” Louie said.

On Friday, Eagle Spirit’s chief’s council issued a press release slamming Ottawa’s moratorium as “ill-conceived” and “inappropriate.”

“As Indigenous peoples, we want to preserve the right to determine the types of activities that take place in our territories and do not accept that the federal government should tell us how to preserve, protect and work within our traditional territories,” the release states, adding the group is considering its legal options.

“Once again the federal government is not respecting nation-to-nation dialogue and consultation and is forging ahead on proposals without the consent of many Indigenous communities,” it reads.

The Liberals promised a ban on oil tanker traffic during the 2015 election and Trudeau asked his ministers, in their publicly released mandate letters, to work together to develop the moratorium.

The bill introduced last week, however, does allow small ships to transport oil to northern communities on the B.C. coast “to ensure northern communities can receive critical shipments of heating oils and other products,” according to a release.

The legislation has also drawn criticism from the Canadian oil and gas industry. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president and CEO Tim McMillan said the energy industry will present the federal government with scientific evidence to convince politicians to end the moratorium.

That evidence would come from data on Canada’s existing “world-class” safety system for tanker traffic movements.

“We were looking for the government to give us some scientific evidence fore where the problems were – that did not happen,” McMillan said, adding that he has meetings set up with both Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Transportation Minister Marc Garneau.

McMillan said and oil producers have been shipping through ports, including in Vancouver, for years and the ban on tanker traffic could hamper both light and heavy Canadian oil businesses.

David Black, who owns Black Press Ltd. and has proposed an oil refinery in Kitimat, B.C., said the tanker ban wouldn’t be a problem for his project, but shipping bitumen off the West Coast is a concern for B.C. residents.

“It’s not the pipeline that’s so worrisome, it’s the fact that they’re putting diluted bitumen on the water,” Black said.

“It’s crazy to put it in tankers on B.C.’s coast and the solution is a refinery,” he said.

Financial Post

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