While not a total surprise, the cancellation of the bid process on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal in Prince Rupert should be a major concern for both local residents and their community, as well as provincial and national leaders.
It appears that politics have clouded Ottawa’s judgement on an important piece of transportation infrastructure that ultimately benefits our community, Northern B.C. and Canada. It is a critical component to a diversified economy and cornerstone of the tourism industry. In 2013 the Alaska Marine Highway transported over 15,000 visitors through the Prince Rupert Terminal, representing roughly 15 per cent of all leisure visitors through our community and region. The economic benefit of the terminal is felt far and wide through Northern B.C. and even down through the interior and Lower Mainland. Many of the visitors using the Alaska Marine Highway are on a vacation of a lifetime travelling from the lower 48 states through British Columbia to various Alaskan communities, and on the return trip many complete a circle tour via the Alaska Highway and Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and through Prince George.
The Canadian Government has chosen to focus on a very small piece of the overall economic benefit that this project would deliver to our region. U.S. federal legislation requires the Alaska Marine Highway terminal upgrade to use American steel, a program that was developed to ensure the USA economy receives some financial benefit from infrastructure upgrades that are funded by the U.S. Government.
While the Canadian government touts it as a threat to Canada’s sovereignty, the fact remains that the Americans are the ones paying for the upgrades—no Canadian dollars are involved at all—and thus deciding what products they want to be used in construction. Is this different than a local homeowner deciding to renovate their home and choose the products they desire?
If not, why is it we should feel differently about a ferry operator looking to make an investment in infrastructure at no cost to the Canadian taxpayer?
This is an investment that will benefit our region and country—an investment that ensures the long term renewal of a vital service that benefits local businesses, pays local taxes and provides jobs – not to mention a ferry service to local residents.
The potential loss in economic benefits to our region over the life of the 50-year lease on the AMH terminal exceeds $1 billion dollars. Is it really worth risking for the potential sale of $5 million of steel?
We’re certain many Canadian residents and businesses would welcome the investment — even with American steel.
Scott Farwell, Board Chair of Tourism Prince Rupert