A conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on safety and shipping

The BC Coast Pilots (BCCP) were recently contacted by the Prime Minister’s Office asking if we’d be available to meet in person share our thoughts about the safety of shipping on the west coast. We were of course happy to oblige, as this is something we live and breathe every day as part of our jobs out on the water. Although I had only expected to meet representatives of his office, I had the pleasure of meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself on a windswept and drizzling west coast afternoon, a typical spring day here in BC. The purpose of our meeting was to add our expertise to a video, highlighting the importance of the federal investments in the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) across Canada but particularly on Canada’s west coast. It was a great opportunity for BCCP to discuss with the Prime Minister firsthand the day-to-day role Marine Pilots play across Canada in keeping our coastline safe and protected and the depth of BCCPs commitment to shipping safety and the marine environment.

Prime Minister Trudeau tapes a video message in Victoria. April 5, 2018.

I shared our role in the safety and feasibility of all marine projects proposals and our never-wavering adherence to the safety mitigations that will define a project if it is deemed safe to go ahead. I found it very rewarding meeting the PM, and take great pride and confidence in his obvious commitment to safety and preservation of the marine environment; he talked with great fondness of his passion for BC given the time he spent here. I hope we will have a chance to meet again and continue our chat.

It was a good experience for me, and a reminder that we as Pilots don’t talk enough publicly about not only our passion for marine service, but the breadth and depth of our work. A big part of our job, in addition to boarding vessels and getting them in and out of harbors along the 15,000 kilometers of BC’s coastline, is to actively participate in the review of new projects that have marine elements, in most cases, increases to shipping, whether that be size of ships, the number coming in or out of ports and if they can move goods safely and efficiently. We spent more than five years studying routes, ship designs, currents, weather and many other factors before we submitted our initial report on the feasibility of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Project, and then five more years monitoring and implementing gradual changes. Our report indicated we felt that the movement of bitumen in and out of our ports could be done safely as long as the right mitigations that we recommended were in place. As a rule, we take no position as an organization in support of or against any project – we simply review the facts and ensure that we are doing our due-diligence as per our authority under the current federal Pilotage Act. I can tell you that every one of us share a personal connection to both the coastal communities and British Columbia’s beautiful coast and feel strongly about protecting it.

Another component of the OPP that I discussed with the Prime Minister when I saw him was the need to maintain and improve marine and environmental safety. The mandated review of the Pilotage Act, which started in May 2017, with a focus on modernizing the Act must keep all the elements that support Canada’s exceptional pilotage safety record. The BCCP have been participating in this review process for nearly a year and are anxiously awaiting the outcome. It is critical that any changes recommended as part of this review do not compromise our ability to continue to provide our exceptional unbiased regional pilotage oversite ,completely free from political and economic forces while protecting our waterways. Once the formal report has been issued on that process, we will share further thoughts.

As summer approaches, Pilots are heading into the busy cruise season. In an upcoming blog piece we will talk about some of the work we have done to help study how cruise ships can get in and out of our ports quickly and safely, as their sizes continue to grow year over year.

– Captain Robin Stewart, BCCP President