VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal government on Monday vowed to toughen its response to oil spills at sea, a move that some critics say will increase local tanker traffic and hurt the environment.
As part of a marine safety plan to protect oceans, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would spend C$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) over five years on better response measures and research into how to clean up oil spills.
Trudeau said the plan "will make Canada a world leader in marine safety."
However, environmentalists said the announcement was a sign Ottawa will approve the hotly contested Trans Mountain pipeline expansion next month, which will run from Alberta's oil sands to the Pacific Coast.
Trudeau declined to comment on whether he will approve the pipeline.
The government has until Dec. 19 to decide whether to allow Kinder Morgan Inc to nearly triple the capacity of the pipeline and expand an existing marine terminal.
Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of developing Alberta's oil sands. Aboriginal activists feel they were not consulted fairly.
Canada's energy industry and the Alberta government are pressuring Ottawa to approve the project.
"Today's announcement ... is the strongest signal yet that the Liberal Government is trying to create a context that would justify their approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline," environmental group Stand.earth said in a statement.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark praised the plan, telling reporters on a call that the new measures appear to address all of the safety, environmental and operational gaps her government previously raised to the federal government. She added that they still need to work out details.
Critics say if the pipeline is approved, it will lead to more tanker shipping and boost the chances of an accident.
In a statement, Trudeau said the government would make shipping safer by providing better charting in key areas of high traffic, opening new radar sites and increasing the size of an industry fund that pays compensation for spills.
Trans Mountain runs from Alberta to the Pacific province of British Columbia, where the local government has laid down five conditions which must be met before it allows pipelines to be built on its territory.
One of the demands is that Ottawa upgrade its ability to tackle oil spills.
The expanded pipeline would primarily carry heavy crude oil, the bulk of which would be loaded onto tankers at Kinder Morgan's Vancouver marine terminal.
($1 = 1.3367 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by Catherine Ngai, writing by David Ljunggren; additional reporting by Nicole Mordant; Editing by Alan Crosby and Lisa Shumaker