COLUMN: Pipeline scrap a contrast to port expansion

What do the loss of Delta farmland, the paving over of ancient aboriginal sites and an oil pipeline to Kitimat all have in common?

What do the loss of Delta farmland, the paving over of ancient aboriginal sites on the Fraser River and Enbridge’s planned Northern Gateway oil pipeline to Kitimat all have in common?

All three are sacrifices B.C. is being asked to make so the rest of Canada can use B.C. ports to exploit rising trade with Asia.

Agricultural land is being carved off in blocks big and small to convert into port-related development or highway improvements.

The South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) last year rolled over some of the province’s oldest First Nations archaeological sites near the Alex Fraser Bridge.

That may have gone relatively unnoticed but most Lower Mainland motorists know their commutes are increasingly slowed by trucks clogging the roads and longer trains holding up traffic – more symptoms of the pressure to make Metro Vancouver Canada’s west coast super port.

Now, after a rising tide of public opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, Premier Christy Clark has vowed to block it without world-leading environmental protection and a big share of benefits for B.C.

She has her eye on the $81-billion tax bonanza governments stand to reap from the pipeline.

Should Ottawa attempt to force it through, the province threatens to bog Enbridge down in permit approvals and even deny the project electricity from BC Hydro.

Standing up to Alberta and Ottawa might make good politics in the dying year of a possibly doomed government.

But such posturing likely rings hollow for local environmental groups like the Burns Bog Conservation Society that have spent years fighting the SFPR over the threat it poses to the bog and wildlife habitat along the Fraser.

The perimeter road is all about quickly shunting trucks between Deltaport and Highway 1, which is also expanding to 10 lanes through much of Metro Vancouver.

For years, the B.C. government has been an ardent partner of Ottawa in its Asia-Pacific Gateway strategy, expediting the port and road expansion.

Victoria never lifted a finger to stop the resulting industrialization of farmland, and in fact pulled land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve to enable the port expansion envisioned in the Tsawwassen Treaty.

Where, Metro Vancouver mayors might also ask, was Clark’s boldness to shake down Ottawa when they wanted to slap a tax on each container that moves through the port?

Since container trucks beat up our roads and bridges, they suggested, why not charge a container toll that would go to TransLink and act as one new funding source that doesn’t come from the pockets of the region’s embattled taxpayers and motorists.

But the container tax was shot down almost instantly by the BC Liberals.

In fairness, this region has been on the receiving end of plenty of cash from Ottawa.

The feds have pumped in hundreds of millions of dollars – not just for obvious port-related projects like the SFPR and Roberts Bank Rail Corridor overpasses, but also big contributions to the construction of the Pitt River Bridge, the Canada Line and now the Evergreen Line to extend SkyTrain to Coquitlam.

Port expansion also promises thousands of additional jobs in the Lower Mainland, which can’t pin its economic future on retail service wages alone.

That doesn’t take away from the fact there are downsides to being Canada’s West Coast industrial park.

Whether it’s the new Enbridge pipeline, the expanded Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal or simply more expansion of port terminals, all of this boils down to the same thing: an expectation B.C. suck it up and accept inconvenience, risk and environmental or other losses to benefit the rest of Canada.

If we are being asked, over and over, to take one for Team Canada, maybe it is time to consider seeking a new deal.


Jeff Nagel is the regional reporter for Black Press Lower Mainland.