Politics

Sabrina Maddeaux: Economic havoc awaits after Canada’s largest port cut off from rest of country

Supply chain disaster shows how overreliant Canada is on trade with China

Article content

Unprecedented flooding. A major fire. A highway ripped in half. Cattle saved from certain death  via hovercraft . The scenes emerging from British Columbia would be right at home in a Michael Bay film or, more classically, the Old Testament. But here they are in Canada, our home, with no end in sight to the suffering.

Advertisement

Article content

Vancouver is completely cut off from the rest of the country. Extreme rains, floods and landslides have rendered Highways 1, 7 and 3 unusable. The Coquilhalla Highway is snapped in two like uncooked spaghetti. The rail lines that connect the Port of Vancouver to, well, everywhere else are all under water, mud, debris –– or all of the above.

The only saving graces: a low death toll, and that the storms haven’t (yet) flushed out a horde of pissed off scorpions like they did in Egypt  earlier this week.

It will undoubtedly be Canada’s most expensive natural disaster of the year, and perhaps ever. That’s only taking into account the reconstruction bills. What’s yet to set in for many, politicians included, are the devastating impacts this could have on Canada’s already-struggling supply chains and overall economy.

Advertisement

Article content

“Tough to be precise, but based on the latest data for 2017 and extrapolated forward, I estimate roughly $300-350m is traded between BC and the rest of Canada per day by road or rail. That’s $2-2.5b per week,”  tweeted  University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe.

No matter what, cutting off a major port from the rest of the country is going to spell bad news. But what takes this scenario from logistically inconvenient to five-alarm economic fire is our outsized dependence on trade with China.

The Port of Vancouver is the only Canadian port that exports and receives goods to and from China. The country  accounted for 34.9 million tonnes of the port’s exported and imported cargo in 2020, which makes China by far its largest trading partner. Much of the coming impact will boil down to the movement –– or lack thereof –– of items bought from or sold to China. The pain will be felt by both consumers and businesses of all sizes, but particularly smaller ones whose budgets afford them fewer shipping alternatives.

Advertisement

Article content

It’s an unfortunate reminder of just how much we’ve outsourced over the years and the independence we’ve lost as a result. Rather than build and maintain proper infrastructure, we rely on access to other nations. Rather than scale up internal trade, our politicians obsess over a dubious trade relationship with China. When things looked dicey during NAFTA renegotiations, too few voices proposed becoming more self-sufficient while prominent officials instead  called for  replacing American trade with Chinese trade, something they dubbed the “China solution.”

Advertisement

Article content

Why pursuing ever-increasing trade with China is problematic should, by now, be very obvious. The nation’s increased aggression, authoritarianism, human rights abuses, and frequent undermining of Canada’s economy and democracy are just some reasons. However, until now, there’s never been a truly tangible downside to overreliance on Chinese trade, the type that impacts everyday life for the average Canadian. The economic risks and potential consequences of such dependence are suddenly very real. The only way out of this mess is to invest in infrastructure and break down regulatory barriers between provinces and territories.

In 2016, the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce issued a  report that strongly advocated for dismantling Canada’s internal trade barriers saying, “The time to act is now, and Canada’s governments must do so without further delay.” Chief among their recommendations was the creation of at least one “national corridor that would allow the transportation of goods and services to tidewater through pipelines, railways, fibre optic cables, transmission lines and any other appropriate means.” So far, there’s been a resounding lack of response.

Advertisement

Article content

A mid-Canada corridor was actually first proposed in 1969 at a Mid-Canada Development Conference as an urgent priority. It was officially recommended in a 1971 report to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, but was also flatly ignored. Fast forward to 2021, and there’s been no significant cross-Canada infrastructure investment since the Trans-Canada Highway Act of 1949. The northern part of our country lacks any such infrastructure, period.

There’s only so long we can get away with excusing our lack of investment and foresight by pointing to our vast size. Our biggest obstacles aren’t geographical, but rather a lack of willpower combined with the deluded notion that we’ll always have another country to depend on. It should be apparent by now that, whether by natural disaster, global pandemic, diplomatic spat, or war, Canada is going to have to grow up.

If Canada doesn’t figure out how to become more self-sufficient, the catastrophic events in Vancouver could look positively miniscule in the long run. The warning signs have never been more clear.

The big issues are far from settled. Sign up for the NP Comment newsletter,  NP Platformed.

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.




Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *