The Senate passed up a chance Thursday to kill the Trudeau government's bill to ban oil tanker traffic in the environmentally sensitive waters off northern British Columbia.
Senators voted 53-38 to reject a committee report that recommended that Bill C-48 be scrapped; one senator abstained. But that's not a guarantee the bill will survive.
A number of Independent senators are opposed to C-48 but nevertheless voted against the Conservative-written report of the Senate's transportation and communications committee because they felt it was too partisan and inflammatory. They also want a chance to propose amendments to the bill.
The report asserted that the bill will divide the country, inflame separatist sentiment in Alberta and stoke resentment of Indigenous Peoples. It also maintained the bill is "politically motivated" and accused the Trudeau government of intentionally setting out to destroy the economy of Alberta, where the Liberals have little hope of winning seats in this fall's federal election, in order to curry political favour in B.C. and other regions where the governing party is more competitive.
Had senators voted to accept the committee report, the bill would have been killed immediately.
By rejecting the report, senators have ensured the bill will proceed to third reading in the Senate, during which amendments can be proposed. Some independent senators have signalled their support for changes that would, among other things, allow for a shipping corridor through the restricted area.
Others would like to change the permanent nature of the ban on oil tankers, allowing it to be lifted after a certain period of time or under certain circumstances.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his government is deeply disappointed the Senate voted to reject the committee's report.
"The committee members could find no compelling rationale for this bill, given that it only targets one product, Alberta bitumen, and does not restrict oil tanker shipments elsewhere on Canada's coastlines," Kenney said in a release late Thursday.
"I urge the Senate to reconsider the negative impact this bill will have on national unity at debate on third reading. Should Bill C-48 be passed into law, Alberta will launch an immediate constitutional challenge."
There has been a voluntary moratorium on tankers off B.C.'s northern coast since 1985.
If the Senate approves amendments to the bill, it would have to return to the House of Commons where the government would decide whether to accept, reject or modify the changes. Senators would then have to decide whether to insist upon their changes or defer to the will of the elected parliamentary chamber.
Conservative senators, who have led the charge against C-48, contend there's no point trying to amend the bill because Transport Minister Marc Garneau has already indicated he won't accept changes. But Sen. Peter Harder, the government's representative in the upper house, has pointed out that while Garneau has ruled out allowing a restricted shipping corridor, he has been more open to other potential changes.
Other senators have noted that Garneau has accepted amendments to other transport bills, even after initially saying he would not.
In a statement late Thursday, the Conservatives vowed to repeal the bill if they win this fall's federal election.
"Despite stark warnings from workers, experts and premiers about the devastating impact this bill will have on the entire Canadian economy, the Liberals and their allies in the Senate are forging ahead with this disastrous legislation," said the statement issued jointly by Conservative MPs Kelly Block and Shannon Stubbs, the party's critics for transport and natural resources.