Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time for a Big Project

This is my column from 24 hours in Vancouver from last Thursday:

This year saw the Olympic games in BC and the culmination of a big vision for the province. The time has come to adopt a new big vision for the coming decade, this vision should be to connect Alaska and Yukon to BC through a rail line and a transmission line.

Over the last decade the lower mainland has seen the Canada Line, the Sea to Sky Highway, the Gateway project, and the Convention Centre. Great for Vancouver, not so great for the rest of BC.

The economy of BC is dependent on natural resources for its well being. The high standard of living in Vancouver is only possible because of the trees, rocks and oil we extract. Investment in several large infrastructure projects in Northwest will bring an improved economy for everyone.

The argument against this infrastructure is that it is a subsidy of industry and that they should be able to build it themselves. Why does this apply in rural BC but not in urban BC? Why should we spend all that money on a convention centre but not on infrastructure needed to open a dozen more mines?

First and foremost the province should be looking at building a transmission line along Highway #37 all the way to Alaska. There are plans for a smaller line to go part way up the highway, but if it were build several times larger and go all the way to Alaska there would numerous stalled mining projects in the Northwest and Yukon that could move forward.

The Northwest also has a huge potential for green power, enough to power all of San Diego. The transmission line would be cheaper to build than the Site C dam while at the same time have the potential for many times the power of the dam on the Peace.

The next big vision project is a rail line along Highway #37 all the way from Kitwanga on the Skeena to Alaska. The lack of a rail link between Alaska and Yukon and the rest of North America has isolated them, building it will allow for lot more economic activity in the region and another secure link to the south.

One part of the rail line that should be built is a connection to Stewart. This short link would connect the deep water port there to many existing and proposed mines in Northwest BC. With the rail link Stewart can even consider becoming a container port in the future, having a third one competing for business on the west coast of Canada would be good for everyone.

Through these to projects, BC would see an increase in GDP of at least 15% over 10 years, with this comes lot more in taxes and employment. Alaska and Ottawa would contribute the majority of the cost for the projects making the cost to BC lower than the cost to build a dam on the Peace. These projects are big visions and call for someone with guts to move forward on them.


Anonymous said...

Why should Ottawa pay anything for a rail line to Alaska? It would only divert freight to Anchorage from Prince Rupert. If the Americans want a rail line, let them pay for it.

Plenty of federal reports have been completed and revised on rail lines to Yukon. Why not research and read them before concluding about the economic benefits to Canada (and the Yukon) of an Alaskan gateway. You also might want to read about the BC Rail Deas Lake and Ft. Nelson rail spurs boondoggle of the WAC Bennett government.

Ditto for the power line to the Panhandle. BC Hydro should lean to making a deal as similar as possible to that Quebec Hydro made with the Newfoundland on their Churchill project - looking out for Quebec's interests, not Newfoundland's.

Anonymous said...

Please explain to the previous commentator how the U.S. has for years been paying dividends to BC by purchasing power at a high prices during the day with BC holding the water( power) in the reservoirs at night. BC pays cheap prices for U.S. generated power at night. BC has reaped huge benefits from this beneficial relationship.

How is BC accepting foreign paying customers - thus guaranteeing a payback in government investment a bad thing? OK, let's suppose for some reason the mines in Northwest BC fail - who holds the bag for no payback on the investment? You got it, the Canadian and BC taxpayers.

With Alaska as a customer to move power to or from there, there is a payback on the investment should mines fail.

As for Rupert being threatened as a low cost port, the miles to Alaska don't compensate for cheaper and faster marine transport. Someday, Canada will be interconnected by rail to Russia and Eurasia via Alaska. By that time, there'll be a need for it - it's not nice to think in a shortsighted manner.