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Tanker traffic, offshore oil major issues in North Coast riding

PRINCE RUPERT – Offshore oil and the possibility that oil tankers could one day be pulling in to the Port of Prince Rupert to transport Alberta oil around the world were hot topics at an all-candidates meeting in the North Coast riding.

A panel of local media and members of the chamber of commerce asked candidates at an all-candidates forum earlier this week about CN Rail's proposal to bring bitumen oil from Alberta on rail cars to Prince Rupert, where it would be loaded onto tankers for transport.

It's a controversial proposal, that critics say poses a threat of an environmental disaster if a tanker were to spill in the sensitive waters around the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Liberal candidate Herb Pond said there were obvious issues with moving that kind of substance near and on water, but the Port of Prince Rupert has been good at handling cargo safely. Pond said he was certain the same would be for oil.

B.C. Green candidate Lisa Girbav, at 19 the youngest candidate in the current election campaign, suggested a more staggered approach to cultivating oil sands projects, which she said would be more environmentally and economically prudent.

"We should sit on it and wait for it to get more expensive,'' Girbav said Wednesday night.

But New Democrat incumbent Gary Coons said he was totally against oil tankers running up and down the northern coast and said that if the NDP were elected into government, the party would legislate a moratorium on oil tanker traffic.

"We need to put our energy into protecting our coast,'' said Coons.

The NDP has also said they support a continued federal moratorium on offshore oil exploration and development.

"A healthy economy only comes with a healthy environment. The last thing we want is tankers going up and down the North Coast,'' said Coons.

The former teacher said instead of oil, the North Coast needs its fish. He said his party would reinvest in fisheries, an important historical industry for locals all around the North Coast.

The proliferation of government-approved casinos in the province, the social problems associated with gambling, and education also figured prominently in the debate.

Coon lambasted the Liberals for cuts to education, pointing out that 177 schools have closed and class sizes have increased.

"There are over 14,000 classrooms in violation of Gordon Campbell's own class size and composition laws,'' he told the Prince Rupert Daily News.

He said a New Democrat government would meet the class-size limits and provide some flexibility to per-pupil funding for rural areas that struggle with funding.

Pond said the poor completion rates for high school in his region is of even greater concern.

"Our education model fails too many of our children. This is a problem that all community leaders must unite around to find solutions,'' he said.

The Canadian Press.

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