Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I get why Vancouverites don’t want an oil spill in Burrard Inlet, which for all intents and purposes is their city’s front yard.
I’ve spent four days overlooking Coal Harbour, the section of the Inlet east of Stanley Park and adjacent to the vaulting towers of downtown Vancouver.
The other morning while walking the shoreline a great blue heron swooped close enough overhead that both my wife and I swore we felt his wings beat. We also had to stop momentarily while a goose and gander nudged their goslings across our path and into Lost Lagoon.
Nearby, a seagull dismembered a starfish, limb-from-limb, until he could swallow the creature’s core, whole.
All this is in the centre of a city of over a million people.
But if you look past the runners, walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers on the Seawall, past some of the most expensive condos on the continent and some of the most amazing restaurants, past the crab fishermen, rowers, rhododendrons, cedars, yachters, kayakers and gargantuan cruise ships, all framed by stunning mountains in the backdrop, you notice something else – the third-busiest port on the continent and the No. 1 North American port for exports.
One-third of all of Canada’s exports to the rest of the world (not including the United States) pass through the Port of Vancouver.
Trains rumble in hour after hour bringing goods from all over B.C., all over Western Canada, even from several American states to be taken to over 150 countries by tanker, container and cargo ship.
Just across the water from the chic, floor-to-ceiling glass skyscrapers are a dozen or more huge marine terminals loading grain, chemicals, forestry products, steel, machinery, coal, potash, fuel and, yes, Alberta oil and bitumen.
Immediately opposite Stanley Park lies Vancouver Wharves which is distinguishable by its heaping tailings cone of sulphur. Next door to that is one of the largest wood-chip and pellet docks in the world.
The port is the reason most of the rest of Vancouver exists. Each year, $200 billion in goods passes through here. Over 100,000 jobs depend on the export business.
I understand the desire of Vancouverites to keep this gorgeous waterway clean, so I can feel their concern over tankers and the Trans Mountain pipeline.
But the concern is both hypocritical and disconnected.
The hypocrisy comes from singling out Alberta oil for attack. Why oppose Trans Mountain while leaving all the remaining vast flow of natural resources unmolested? Why no “kayak-tivism” (paddling out and chaining your kayak to the kayaks of other seaborne demonstrators) against timber or coal? Vancouver is the largest port on the West Coast for the export of soft, U.S. coal which produces far more emissions and pays no carbon tax.
The disconnect comes from not understanding that all the towers and condos and parks along the waterfront exist mostly because of all the timber, coal, sulphur and, yes, oil that passes through this port. Baristas, teachers and bicycle mechanics all do their bit, but a modern, prosperous economy is not sustained by sales of half-sweet, no-foam, soymilk, caramel macchiatos or fair trade, bamboo dashikis.
This is why Bill C-69, which is currently before the Senate has to be scrapped – not amended, but scrapped altogether. Not only will it make future pipelines impossible, but, as witnesses before a Senate committee have testified, high-speed trains, bridges, solar and wind electricity farms, transmission lines and marine terminals are also threatened.
Power plants, too, will be hard to build. And without oil, all those electric cars the eco-activists are dreaming of are going to need a lot more power plants. (Another example of the disconnect of naive idealists.)