Conservative government cut back Environment Canada's capacity to respond to oil spills

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      Yesterday, I wrote a commentary highlighting how the Harper government is spinning the oil spill in English Bay.

      It's Public Relations 101: distribute pictures of workers responding to the crisis, pin the blame on the ship, keep Conservative politicians away from microphones, and get a guy in uniform from the Canadian Coast Guard to be the frontman for repeated media briefings.

      What the Coast Guard's barrage of media releases has not stated, however, is that the Conservative government imposed serious cutbacks in 2012 on how it responds to oil spills.

      According to a Globe and Mail article at the time by Gloria Galloway, approximately 60 people with the Environmental Emergencies Program received notices that their jobs could be scrapped.

      "The staff in the Environmental Emergencies Program co-ordinate the cleanup of spills that occur within federal jurisdictions including waterways, first nations and federal buildings," Galloway wrote. "They also provide technical advice when incidents occur elsewhere and collectively respond to more than 1,000 significant spills every year."

      The Environmental Emergencies Program regional offices in six Canadian cities, including Vancouver, were closed.

      This has left a preparedness and response team in Montreal, as well as a policy and regulatory team in Gatineau, Quebec.



      A.M. Haaretz

      Apr 13, 2015 at 12:13pm

      Alright, Premier Clark, somebody else was responsible for putting the First Aid kits on your School Bus, but since you're driving and in charge of the bus, don't you think *you* should have checked to see if the First Aid kits were there . . . and complete?

      Former EC Emergencies Officer

      Apr 13, 2015 at 1:22pm

      Firstly it is the ship that is at fault in this case. While we dwell on the feds response to this incident lets keep in mind that under the Canada Shipping Act it is the ship that has the responsibility to report this discharge and activate its response organization which in the case of the west coast is WCMRC. They apparently failed to notice their release or failed to bother to provide notice and activate their RO. It came down to the CCG acting on a notice of the Port to inspect and activate WCMRC. The fact that night ops were conducted and to a degree were successful in collecting alot of the bunker is a testament to the expertise of WCMRC. Of course if the conditions had been rougher all best would be off. With respect to EC I appreciate the attention the loss of our group has had but to be clear in these cases EC Emergencies would never have co-ordinated the clean-up. That is the duty of the responsible vessel, its agent of the CCG if the vessel is unwilling, unable or this case unwilling appears to be the situation. The EC group's responsibility was to co-ordinate the science to support the response. The regional folks that were redistributed to other programs were regional experts, had relationships with other environmental and resource protection agencies and understood the vulnerbilities of the region. We collaborated to ensure that the responsible vessel or the CCG had the best possible information to ensure and effective response was undertaken. The folks now in Montreal while are still some of the best in the world lack the regional knowledge; in some cases, the regional relationships; in some cases, but more so the direction to play the role they did in the past.

      Back to English Bay. Be thankful the conditions were what they were. It could have been considerably worse.

      Take this all with a grain of salt, I am just a former emergencies officer.


      Apr 13, 2015 at 6:22pm

      @ Former EC Emergencies Officer

      The conditions could have been considerably better if ships laden with oil were not allowed on the seas at all, especially not so close to a population center.

      I have read your comments three times and they make no sense at all, perhaps because the grammar is unintelligible. The best I could make of your comments is that the laws and duties of organizations are such that an effective response is impossible, given that the ship, who is the least motivated and equipped to deal with the problem, is the one responsible for it.