What trumps the best soil in North America? Or what my father (an agrologist in a very early life) once told me was the “finest soil in the world, second only to the Nile Valley”? What trumps pioneer farmers whose families cleared the land and built the dykes? What trumps an international commitment to a migratory bird flyway? Or protection of the Fraser River estuary? Or a commitment to law and the land, the environment and the people?
Pavement trumps, of course. Big business with undue influence on government trumps. So does government that abandons ethical responsibility for the quality of life in the communities where people
live their lives, pay their taxes, and raise their children – people who want only to be heard, and to know that common sense will rule.
The South Fraser component of Gateway is a 40-year-old transportation plan that definitely trumps modern thinking. The government ignores its environmental responsibility while hypocritically flaunting buzz terms like “sustainable”, “green”, “living smart”, and “carbon neutral” – a futile attempt to sanitize this dirty and wasteful development.
In other words, the South Fraser Perimeter Road trumps everything with this government’s “pavement politics”.
There are many reasons to oppose this blacktop boondoggle: it destroys precious farmland, dislocates people, demolishes habitat of threatened species. It increases pollution and congestion, and encourages real estate speculation.
But another major problem can be found in a report commissioned by former federal Minister of International Trade David Emerson, on the planned port-related transportation network known as Gateway. The report observed that the efficiency and competitiveness of the Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) had little to do with the construction of a new transportation network, and everything to do with modernizing the labour structure and distribution systems that service port activity. The paper noted that unless those elements changed, building new infrastructure would not be the panacea either big business or PMV were seeking. In other words, infrastructure alone would not enable the Port to effectively compete with the great ports of the world that had already addressed labour and distribution issues.
What does this mean? Simply, it means that a distribution system which is not operating around the clock is fundamentally inefficient and uncompetitive. It also means that outdated labour rules and rates will fail to serve us in the competitive global market.
And the real travesty is that the creators of Gateway know this is true. They have been asked time and again why they need new highways when the existing infrastructure is used only eight hours a day. And their answer? The distribution system says it would need a vast change in present practice. The truckers don’t want to work at night. And the excuses multiply. The Port executives know the problem. So do the distributors. So do the truckers. And so does the government.
But rather than confront the reality of an inefficient, underused system, we will spend over a billion dollars to go around the roadblock. Instead of issuing an executive order to run the port and its distribution network 18 or 24 hours a day, an irresponsible government finds it easier to pave the land.
Who is the winner? Certainly not the people. Trucks may move faster for the same eight hours a day. Gigantic distribution warehouses and miles of new blacktop will deliver containers and goods – for the
same eight hours a day. And the people and the land and the environment will pay – forever.