Michael Ignatieff sees no need to put into law a long-standing moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic along British Columbia's coast - a position that's being criticized by a former Grit candidate who's also a prominent environmentalist. Despite a widespread belief that such a ban has existed since 1972, provincial Liberal and federal Conservative government officials - along with representatives from Enbridge Inc. - have said it doesn't exist in law. That's important because the lack of a legal ban means the pipeline firm could act on its plans to pump oil from Alberta's oil sands to Kitimat and transport it through British Columbia's coastal waters.
During a town hall meeting at the University of Victoria, Mr. Ignatieff - who supports the development of those oil sands, albeit in a more environmental and sustainable way - said he's in favour of the moratorium.
But when pressed by an audience member as to whether he'd introduce legislation to make that moratorium law, the Grit leader said, "I don't think we need to go there. I think what we need to do is maintain a moratorium."
Mr. Ignatieff didn't elaborate on why such a law wasn't necessary, even when the audience member pointed out the status quo means that ban isn't "really legally binding."
Nor would he do so when we questioned him about the issue after the event.
"As I've said, you put into law when you need to put into law," responded the former academic. "I think moratorium will do the job."
But that's not the view of The Land Conservancy of BC co-founder Briony Penn, who ran in Saanich-Gulf Islands for the Liberals when Stephane Dion was leader of that party.
In an interview with Public Eye, Ms. Penn - who campaigned on the moratorium issue during the last election - said, "I like many, many people who were Dion supporters have not been happy with his responses either on the tar sands or this issue."
"Why not just put it into law? I think any political pundit would say, 'Well, never go more than you need to because if you're in that position you're not pissing off anybody,'" she continued. "But, at this stage, I'm saying what I think Canadians are looking for is leadership and not the status quo."
However, New Democrat parliamentarian Denise Savoie, who has introduced a motion in 2007 calling for a formal tanker moratorium, said she's not surprised Ignatieff isn't showing that kind of leadership.
"He's been purposely ambiguous on the issue of (the oil sands)," she said. "But I think it's really unfortunate because it comes at a time when even Alberta is considering slowing down the exploration of the oil sands."