A container ship docking at Deltaport. Port Metro Vancouver has released its Port 2050 outlook for the next two to four decades.

Port wary of roadblocks to growth

Two 'frightening' scenarios in future outlook for Port Metro Vancouver

Port Metro Vancouver now recognizes it might face low-growth scenarios where the massive infrastructure upgrades underway to move goods through the region may not pay off, but it so far continues to bet on stronger trade growth.

The authority unveiled its new Port 2050 vision Friday, predicting what may lay ahead over the next 20 to 40 years.

It includes two low-growth scenarios that president and CEO Robin Silvester calls “frightening.”

One dubbed “Local Fortress” details how local residents’ choice to become a “lifestyle region” throttles Metro Vancouver’s potential as a global hub, compounding the damage of a slow global economy.

That scenario ends with a region attractive to tourists, retirees and the affluent, the report says, but one that pushes away industry and jobs at a cost to the region’s character, vibrancy and diversity.

A second scenario is dubbed “Missed the Boat”, where supply chain problems and lack of community support for the port leaves Metro Vancouver unable to fully tap growth in emerging markets. Industry then opts to use other ports.

More likely, according to Silvester, is a third “Rising Tide” scenario of continued growth but one that is more volatile because of the increasing challenge of climate change and “resource wars” over commodities.

It anticipates a one-metre rise in sea level by 2040 and temperatures four degrees warmer, as the impacts of climate change arrive decades sooner than expected.

He said “Rising Tide” may be just a precursor on the way to a fourth outlook called “The Great Transition” – a rapid shift to a post-industrial, post-carbon world.

It anticipates a global carbon tax and triple-bottom line accounting to reflect the economy and social needs. And it still anticipates a relevant port because rising oil prices make shipping and rail more competitive than trucking.

Gateway critics have long argued port expansion harms the region’s residents, its environment and food security.

They accuse the port of driving the Lower Mainland’s freeway and bridge building binge and buying up farmland for new terminals and warehousing.

The port authority projects container traffic through B.C.’s West Coast will double over the next 10 to 15 years and nearly triple by 2030.

It has proposed a second three-berth container terminal at Deltaport to handle the expected growth.

Silvester, in a Nov. 25 speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, gave no indication the Port 2050 findings will alter the port’s present course.

But he warned the financial crisis in Europe means some of the changes and volatility the port expects in the decades ahead may come sooner than predicted.

He stressed the importance of the 129,000 port-related jobs in the Lower Mainland in weathering any economic storm and said policies and programs may need to be revised to preserve and expand those jobs.

It may be time for a single West Coast port authority, he said, that takes in both Port Metro Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert to ensure the two compete with U.S. ports but not against each other.

He also repeated the port’s concern about conflict over land use and the declining supply of industrial land in the region.

“Perhaps it’s not just an Agricultural Land Reserve that’s needed in British Columbia, but a Jobs Land Reserve,” Silvester said. “A reserve where land that is critical to the jobs we have, and the new jobs that we will require over the next 30 to 40 years, allows them to grow and flourish.”