Anchorages issue hits parliament through private member’s bill

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Coastal residents concerned about the environmental impacts and nuisance caused by freighter anchorages have found an advocate in Cowichan-Malahat-Langford representative Alistair MacGregor.

The NDP Member of Parliament introduced a private member’s bill last week that seeks to amend the Canada Shipping Act to prohibit the anchoring of freighter vessels in the southern Strait of Georgia. The area currently hosts 33 designated anchorage spots that are used by commercial vessels waiting to enter the Port of Vancouver. Increased usage and length of stay has produced considerable noise and light pollution for people who live close by the anchorages, while they and many other coastal residents are also alarmed at the risk to sensitive ocean ecosystems.

Speaking to the Driftwood on Friday, MacGregor said he’s aware some people may feel a legislative approach is extreme, but it’s a way to bring the issue into focus when all previous attempts have failed to produce any regulatory change.

“I would say this private member’s bill is the result of years of frustration in trying to deal with Transport Canada, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and the Port of Vancouver,” MacGregor said. “We still haven’t seen anything satisfactory coming out of that.”

Opposition members are coming together to shift the inertia of those in power. Saanich-Gulf Islands’ Green MP Elizabeth May has agreed to sign onto the bill as a seconder. During his recent election campaign, NDP MLA Murray Rankin said a provincial NDP government would back federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to advance the matter in Parliament.

MacGregor argues the Interim Anchorage Protocol the federal government established in 2018 in response to public outcry has been inadequate, and since its provisions are voluntary, they are often not followed at all. Recent years have instead seen an increase to the number of freighters, and the length of their stay at anchor.

“Community groups and First Nations have made repeated calls to Transport Canada to protect ancient clam beds, prawns, oysters and endangered species, such as the southern resident killer whales, from the environmental impact of the anchored shipping vessels,” MacGregor said.

MacGregor said he realizes the Port of Vancouver is important to the economy and that billions of dollars of commerce pass through there every day. However, the local economy is very dependent on tourism, which he says is not served by freighter presence.

“I think it’s incredibly inefficient for those ships to be lying in wait at their anchors for six, seven, eight weeks,” he added.

As to where ships will go if they can’t anchor around the Gulf Islands and eastern Vancouver Island, MacGregor said the federal government and port authority could work on regulatory changes that would include better coordination on vessel scheduling, so ships don’t arrive all at the same time. More anchorages could additionally be created in English Bay, as a less welcome approach.

Coordinates mapped out in the bill largely correspond to a proposed National Marine Conservation Area, plus added space to include the anchorages located off Gabriola Island.

As another key voice calling for change, the Islands Trust supports the amendment.

“MP MacGregor’s private member’s bill to prohibit the anchoring of freighters along the southern Strait of Georgia offers a long overdue solution to an issue that the Islands Trust Council has been advocating on for many years,” Trust Council chair Peter Luckham said in a statement to the Driftwood. “Despite promises, and years of investigation through the Oceans Protection Plan, the federal government has not provided recommendations or solutions to prevent sensitive coastal habitats being used as an industrial parking lot for the Port of Vancouver. The proposed bill would force industry to develop new practices that avoid endangering the coastal waters and shorelines of the Southern Gulf Islands.”

First Nations whose territories are impacted say they were not consulted about the anchorages, nor did they give their consent when they were first established. Many of the nations in the area have already signed on to support MacGregor’s bill. The Penelakut Tribe is also in the process of preparing legal action to force an end to the anchorages as a violation of their aboriginal rights, including a decline in seafood availability.

As Chief Joan Brown stated in a letter of support of the bill, “We are experiencing invasive species on our beaches and waterways which are a direct result of freighter parking. Dialogue with DFO [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] has confirmed that the pumping of ballast tanks, pumping of bilges, dragging of anchors, dumping of garbage and waste, and continuous noise from generators have combined to seriously threaten our livelihoods and traditional ways of life.”

MacGregor is hoping that introducing the bill will draw more action on the issue, and he is looking for widespread community support to keep that action alive. His office will be launching paper and electronic petitions against the anchorages in the coming weeks, and he would also welcome people sending letters to Transport Minister Marc Garneau. 

For more information, see https://alistairmacgregor.ndp.ca.

1 Comment
  1. marie stevenson says

    Where are the comments from Salt Spring Islanders? I, for one, have had a huge freighter shining its all night lights onto my place in Cusheon Cove for more than a week this very week. That has happened frequently over the past yr with noise, lights & gaseous fumes right at the border of Ruckle Park. Where are the Conservancy leaders who live nearby? Where are the so-called Green Party leaders? I’ve heard no protest from either of these even though this yr I have seen & smelled weekly gigantic freighters parked metres from my home (the border of Ruckle Park, no less!)

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