Current public interest in the marine oil spill hazard is high. Transport Canada recently initiated a national review of the ship-sourced oil spill regime, and federal managers on the Pacific Coast may be interested in reinvigorating the Regional Advisory Committee on oil spill response.

There is a Regional Advisory Committee (RAC) in six regions across Canada. Selected by Transport Canada, each Committee is composed of six or seven citizen volunteers with varying backgrounds representative of the area. Currently, the Pacific RAC members are a Skeena Fisheries Commission representative, an Islands Trust Policy Advisor, a maritime lawyer, a Haida Nation representative, a North Coast maritime industry representative, a coastal commercial fishing industry representative, and a port industry/regulator. The RAC’s main task of ‘advising the government’ is complemented by a secondary public engagement function.

RAC members’ primary method of engagement is through personal networks such as fisherman’s associations, the marine insurance forum, and industry associations. This intimate approach is supplemented by the practice of occasionally inviting outsiders to meetings. These approaches have led to involved detailed conversations that aid in creating sound technical advice but are less likely to build awareness of local considerations on environmental sensitivities, or for the use of locations as places of refuge. The engagement methods used are not sufficiently inclusive of a full range of stakeholders.

Research by Kevin Tyler found that the Pacific Regional Advisory Committee on oil spill response has presented sound advice to the government, although to what degree senior Transport Canada officials in Ottawa have paid attention is unclear. Struggles between the RAC and the regulator over budgets, access, and mandate have created a record of frustration that underlies member skepticism of their influence. The RAC has received inconsistent access to documentation and draft policy, hampering its work. Letters to the Minister’s office in Ottawa were not receiving a substantive response was a sore point for Pacific RAC members interviewed. Bureaucratic rules and insufficient staff capacity have hindered basic RAC administration such as record keeping and maintaining a website.

While lacking conclusive evidence of influence on policy, Kevin Tyler viewed the Pacific RAC as a rational voice in various policy conversations. The Pacific RAC’s formal recommendations for a Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) Regime, and for Geographic Response Plans (GRPs), are policies the government is slowly moving forward. The Pacific RAC made detailed written recommendations that stand as a record of their voice in the push for change; also of note, several recommendations of the Government’s Tanker Safety Expert Panel are similar to earlier recommendations by the Pacific RAC.

Alaskan and Washington State models were looked at and found to have aspects of structure and procedure that could be adapted to Canada’s Regime with a view to improving transparency and public engagement. Principal conclusions of the research are that the RACs can be a very effective advisory tool if sufficiently empowered by Transport Canada and that the public engagement mandate of RACs needs clarification. Primary outreach should be departmental (by Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard) and this should be complemented by the Advisory Committee’s public engagement. Public meetings are valuable, and the Pacific RAC should be supported in having more of them. Modest resourcing is needed for the Pacific RAC to influence its mandate.

Kevin Tyler’s Royal Roads University Master’s Degree thesis involved an evaluative case study of Transport Canada’s Pacific Regional Advisory Committee on oil spills from 2009 to 2014. Studied was how Citizen Engagement can be improved vis-a-vis Canada’s Marine Oil Spill Prevention and Mitigation Regime. The study involved a review of Transport Canada documents (mainly meeting minutes and letters), and interviews of 16 stakeholders (including Darryl Anderson, Managing Director Wave Point Consulting) involved with or interested in the Regime. Anyone wishing to communicate with the study’s author can contact Mr. Tyler at Copies of the dissertation report are available to interested individuals.