TORONTO – At the last Toronto City Council meeting before the civic elections this fall, a group called Scarborough for a Bitumen Free Future scored an important victory in the growing movement against Enbridge’s plan to ship diluted bitumen (otherwise referred to “dilbit”) from the tar sands through Line 9.
Line 9 is an Enbridge pipeline which crosses southern Ontario including the Haldimand Tract and the north end of Toronto. The Scarborough group which formed this year out after a public meeting at West Hill United Church, launched a petition calling on the City Council to do everything in its power to keep Toronto bitumen free.
City Councillor Anthony Peruzza met with the group, heard its arguments and agreed to bring the issue before City Council. David Shiner, Anthony Peruzza, Peter Leon, Paula Fletcher, Ron Moeser and Gord Perks spoke in favour of the city taking action to stop the Enbridge plan to use Line 9 to ship tar sands oil across the many streams and rivers flowing through the city. They pointed out that a diluted bitumen spill in Toronto like the one in Kalamazoo, Michigan would be a public health and ecological catastrophe.
The heavy oil or bitumen itself is not the only hazard. The substances mixed with it to dilute the oil and make the tar sands oil flow through a pipe include known carcinogens (cancer causing agents) like benzene. They evaporate quickly when a pipeline carrying the material ruptures.
Though a spill is therefore impossible to fully contain, no pipeline company will guarantee that there will never be a spill.
Peruzza pressed hard for the strongest possible action. For example, he asked the City Solicitor (the city’s legal staff) why the City should not amend a commercial zoning by law to prohibit the transport of dilbit, as they did in South Portland, Maine.
But every time this or a similar question was posed by councillors the Solicitor’s answer, whether accurate or not is debatable, was: “Only the federal government has jurisdiction over this issue.” Although the actions supported by Council fell short of the City using its zoning powers to stop the Enbridge plan, it is significant that the government representing the largest city in Canada took a public stand opposing it.
Only three members of Council, Minnan Wong, Gloria Lindsay Luby and Mayor Rob Ford voted against any motion on Line 9.