Does the Northwest Passage still matter?
J L Granatstein has a think piece in the Globe today about sovereignty and environmental protection in the Arctic. Which is both necessary and worthwhile.
But the reason I want to draw attention to it is that is is becoming accepted that there will be an ice free Arctic fairly soon
expectations are that the North Pole may be ice-free within five to 15 years, thus opening a much shorter over-the-Pole route for cargo vessels and giant oil and gas tankers.
Now the obvious question is that if there is to be this new, direct route, why are BC and Canada continuing to pour resources into a Pacific Gateway? In the same time period the newly enlarged Panama Canal will be opened. The overland route through Vancouver – and other West Coast ports – is simply not going to be as attractive as it once was.
Yet today Premier Campbell and Prime Minister Harper will be announcing the Gateway/SFPR – and quite possibly H1PM2 as well. Yet the whole trade argument for these roads died several years ago now when the US economy stopped buying vast amounts of stuff from China. Now we can trade forecasts over how long the current recession/depression is going to last but most agree it is not going to be a short term thing and the long run looks like a very different future for the US dollar as a trading currency.
And when, or if, the trade picks up again, you can bet the shippers will be looking for the cheapest routes to operate since oil will not be anything like as cheap then as it is now.
Sadly, Canadians have shown themselves to be very prone to make this kind of forecasting error. The St Lawrence Seaway was a major international engineering achievement – and mostly irrelevant after it opened. Toronto built a huge complex of docks into Lake Ontario that was largely unused – although the practice of tipping fill into the lake continued for long after it became clear that port expansion was never going to be needed. The expansion of Deltaport is also going to be seen in future as one of the worst decisions made in this region – until the folly of the freeway expansion that is.
It is not too late. Even at this stage it would be possible to stop this monumentally backward plan and come up with something that is both necessary and sustainable. Although that would require two of Canada’s most stubborn politicians to admit that they were mislead.