COLUMN: Port strike has effect on B.C.’s economy

The port shutdown has already cost 142 direct jobs, and probably more indirect jobs, in Terrace due to a mill closure...

A few weeks ago rolling towards town on the freeway, I glanced at the border crossing reader board: only five minutes wait at all crossings.

The dollar drop below 95 cents must be having an effect on cross-border shopping, I thought.

In the past week, with the dollar diving below 90 cents, the “reader” showed an 80-minute wait at Peace Arch, and high times at the other crossings.

I guess, no matter the value of our dollar, there’s no stopping the bargain hunters, though the bargains must be few and far between when the going exchange rate is $1.12 for every item costing a U.S. buck, in addition to taking close to two hours to get to the store.

Add in the price of fuel burned idling at the border, plus the half hour to Bellingham, and the dollar difference increases dramatically.

Like gambling, the elusive “big bargain” comes at a price “addicts” are very willing to pay, and wait for.

The falling dollar, on the other hand, is great for exports. Except right now, thanks to a major trucker strike at our ports, very little is being exported, or imported for that matter.

If the strike is prolonged much longer, it will have a serious effect on the disposable income that is spent in our economy and in the cross-border shopping economy.

The port shutdown has already cost 142 direct jobs, and probably more indirect jobs, in Terrace due to a mill closure based on the inability to export its product.

And with a prolonged strike, all those containers inbound from Asia and other Pacific Rim ports by necessity will soon be redirected to U.S. ports such as Seattle and Long Beach.

Thus, on top of our 89 cent purchasing power, we could be paying considerably more due to shipping from Los Angeles for all those TVs, microwaves and washing machines we get from China, Korea, and Japan.

The big concern, at least from an import standpoint, is that once a shipping line begins to offload in U.S. ports instead of ours, they may keep sending containers there.

That, of course, has a huge impact on jobs here, and on the long-term provincial economy.

B.C., and to large part Canada, has pegged its current and future economy on Asia-Pacific trade.

Due to geography, we are a day or two,  or even three, closer in goods transportation to the high populations of eastern North America.

And in international shipping, every day sooner that a product gets to market is money in the bank.

In fact, B.C.’s ports, particularly Vancouver and Deltaport, handle $126 million worth of imports every day. That’s $750 million a week, and $2.1 billion of product in total not offloaded since the picket lines went up in late February.

Fortunately, massive redirection of cargo to the U.S. has not yet begun. Give it a week or two more and we may see irreversible economic impacts.

If there’s an upside to this, commuters, while they still have jobs, will find a lot less traffic on the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the Port Mann, Patullo and other formerly truck-congested routes.

Since our ports are under federal jurisdiction, Abbotsford’s Ed Fast, as Minister of International Trade, might want to put a bug in Stephen Harper’s ear to get this strike settled in a timely manner.

markrushton@abbynews.com