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Oil sands backer Ignatieff now for ban on northern BC tankers

Federal Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff has gone from extolling "how powerful the oilsands make us" to backing a legal ban on tankers carrying oil sands crude on B.C.'s north coast.

Ignatieff this morning vowed the Liberals would formalize a moratorium, first established under Pierre Trudeau, on oil tanker traffic in Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. The Harper government has maintained the moratorium does not have the force of law, and would not apply to tankers transporting fossil fuels in and out of Kitimat, should the Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta's tar sands be built to that port.

Ignatieff's embrace of the moratorium comes a year and a half after he told supporters filling a Vancouver pub that Canadians are just starting to understand "how powerful the oil sands make us."

"It is awe-inspiring," Ignatieff said, as reported by Tom Barrett in The Tyee.

"We've got oil reserves there that are just staggering in size. It changes everything about our economic future. It changes everything about Canada's importance in the world."

Ignatieff said at the time that he was for keeping the oil sands producing, but finding a way to do so more cleanly.

But no matter how cleanly mining the oil sands might be done, the resulting crude must either travel by pipeline south into the United States or across Alberta and B.C. either through an existing Kinder-Morgan pipeline to Burrard Inlet, or Enbridge's proposed new one that would end in Kitimat.

Either scenario involves an increase in tanker traffic along B.C.'s coast and the Kitimat option would require a violation of moratorium Ignatieff has now said his party backs.

The move will presumably help lure back the nearly one million federal Liberals who sat out the last election, said Dennis Pilon, a political scientist at the University of Victoria. "No tankers are coming into Ontario, so nobody's losing any money."

While Ignatieff may risk alienating Conservatives in Alberta, he wins by presenting an image of a Liberal government that will "take the high road and ignore the interests of the corporate class," said Pilon. "This kind of issue sells well."

Ignatieff's announced position today drew applause from Eric Swanson, leader of the No Tankers campaign launched by the Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group based on Vancouver Island.

"We are closer than ever to the real solution: legislation protecting our north coast from a catastrophic oil spill," said Swanson. "There are now only two types of federal politicians: those who support a legislated oil tanker ban for B.C.'s north coast, and those who don't. In B.C., the Conservatives are now isolated. Their minority in Parliament can't hold back the tide."

"With the Liberal Party on side," stated the release, "there is now an opportunity to pass legislation banning tankers over the opposition of the Conservative government."

David Beers is editor of The Tyee. Josh Massey is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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