The three Prairie provinces export products worth $80 billion through Vancouver’s port and want a bigger say in how it is run.
Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors Minister Devin Dreeshen said it has been a longstanding complaint that Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba share a single representative on the 11-person Vancouver Fraser Port Authority board. Ministers for all three provinces pushed again for a seat for each province at a federal-provincial-territorial infrastructure meeting held in Whistler, B.C. last week.
“About 80 per cent of the exports at the Port of Vancouver come from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” said the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Wednesday.
“However, collectively we have exactly nine per cent of the directors on that board.
“There have been lots of shipping issues and (other) issues we see not being addressed by the Port of Vancouver. Having more Prairie province voices on the Port of Vancouver we think will just allow for easier shipment of products through that port because we would have our priorities heard at the table louder than they currently are.”
The TransMountain Pipeline terminal is expected to be completed this year and will triple Alberta’s oil exports through Vancouver when the pipeline is complete.
Under its current makeup, one board member has been appointed by B.C., one by Saskatchewan on behalf of the Prairie provinces, and the rest are appointed by the federal government on the recommendations of the port user group.
Dreeshen said Alberta wants another two of the existing positions allocated to the Prairie provinces, giving them three seats at the table.
Vancouver’s port authority is a federal agency that oversees the land and waters around Canada’s biggest port. The port exports and imports about $300 billion in goods to about 170 trading economies every year.
Like all Canadian ports, it is financially independent, receiving revenues from terminal and tenant leases as well as harbour dues and other fees charged to shipping companies that call at the port.
Dreeshen also pressed the federal government to do “anything in its power” to try to head off an impending strike by 7,000 terminal cargo loaders at the Vancouver port and about 30 other B.C. ports.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) says it has issued 72-hour strike notice and its members could walk off the job as early as Saturday.
“That’s something that is of vital concern to the Province of Alberta and should be for the entire country,” said Dreeshen.
“We have requested the government do anything in its power, including back-to-work legislation, to make sure that Canada’s number one port isn’t crippled with a union strike.”
Alberta exports more than $40 billion worth of products through the Vancouver port every year and the province’s producers and exporters could be hit hard or man-made through a port strike.
A strike could see ships filling the harbour unable to load while those shipping face financial penalties for not meeting contract schedules. Some port users may look elsewhere for another port to use in the future.
“There are a lot of issues with a (port) strike that would cascade and reverberate through the entire country.”
Another big issue that came out of the infrastructure talks was the need for more provincial control over how federal funding is used, he said.
Alberta, which contributes more to the federal government than it gets back, continues to push for parity.
When federal funding is received, there are always strings attached and how it will be spent often based on federal, not provincial, priorities, he said.
“There was a unified voice from the provinces that we are the local government and the Constitution is set up this way that the priority setting for provinces should be made by the provinces.”