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A Growing Vancouver Must Leave Room For Its Economic Engine

Our already scarce supply of industrial land continues to be rezoned in large parcels, while our agricultural lands are being used for monster houses.

12/12/2017 14:50 EST | Updated 12/12/2017 14:52 EST
Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
The Port of Vancouver is Canada's largest port

Robin Silvester is President & CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the federal agent behind the Port of Vancouver, Canada's largest port.

What will British Columbia look like in 2030, or even 2050? What will become of our great city? Will it have thrived, fulfilling its vision of becoming a prosperous and dynamic economic centre, or will it have languished, falling short of its international ambitions?

The answer to this question is being determined in land zoning decisions made at city council meetings across the Lower Mainland, housing supply decisions made in Victoria and infrastructure funding decisions made in Ottawa.

Together, these decisions determine how we, as a province, approach some of the pivotal questions facing our region, including how we allocate and use land, how we attract and keep skilled workers, and how we ensure our industries are working efficiently and reliably.

Depending on how we address these questions, the port authority and our stakeholders see four different potential outcomes for how our province will look in the year 2050. Each of these outcomes, or scenarios, has been envisioned by a forecasting exercise that the port authority undertook along with our industry, government and community partners to gauge where we are and predict where we're headed.

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Aerial Image of Vancouver, B.C.

Currently in first place, with a slight edge, is our "Rising Tide"scenario. This envisions a robust — albeit largely traditional — carbon economy and a strong port city able to support Canada's growing trade demand on the world stage. It is most like our recent trajectory.

In second place though, only slightly behind, we have the possibility of the "Great Transition."This scenario involves a global economic shift towards a more sustainable, triple-bottom line prosperity model that continues to prosper from a strong and diverse regional economy. It is the most environmentally conscious and economically prosperous scenario, albeit with a volatile transition period expected before it fully takes root.

In third place, and perhaps the most troubling scenario, is what we call "Missed the Boat."This scenario entails a continuation of our existing economic model without the upkeep of the trade and transportation infrastructure needed to meet rising demand.

Lastly, in a distant fourth place, we have the "Local Fortress" scenario — one in which our region follows a protectionist agenda that cuts trade ties with world markets and sees sky-high land costs reduce the region to a retirement community for the wealthy.

We must take action on critical issues facing our region, among the most pressing of which are land use and supply chain efficiency.

For those of us who helped develop the four scenarios back in 2010, it's clear which one is the most favoured. The Great Transition, in which we move to cleaner, more sustainable energy practices while growing our province's and our nation's economic capacity is the outcome in which we prosper most, both as a region and a people.

But is it the most likely?

If we want it to be, we must take action on critical issues facing our region, among the most pressing of which are land use and supply chain efficiency.

Over the last several years, billions of dollars in goods movement transportation infrastructure has been built in this region, facilitating significant growth in trade through the Port of Vancouver. However, given current trade growth projections, our region's infrastructure still requires further investment. This investment would help address the increasing congestion, noise and air quality issues that come with a growing population, and will be critical to meeting Canada's trade demands and addressing the impacts of increasing trade and population on our local communities.

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Construction along Coal Harbour's waterfront, Vancouver, B.C.

The federal government's Transportation 2030 strategy is an excellent start, but there is still work to be done. To date, for example, $1.6 billion has been earmarked within the National Trade Corridors Fund for the improvement of goods-movement transportation corridors across the country, and Canada's Infrastructure Bank will soon get underway, which are both also positive steps. However, infrastructure projects worth about $3 billion have been identified in the Lower Mainland to address population and trade growth, which will require the commitment of all levels of government alongside private investment if we are going to keep pace.

What's more, as we approach 2018, our business community must contemplate what a post-NAFTA reality would mean for future trade routes — not to mention what a withdrawal from the 23-year agreement would look like for our country's bottom line. In light of that sobering possibility, the Port of Vancouver — Canada's largest port — would become even more vital to national repositioning and the increased pursuit of non-U.S. markets.

In addition to addressing the need for infrastructure improvements, a constant thread that seems to cut across all the top concerns here in B.C. is land. Our already scarce supply of industrial land continues to be rezoned in large parcels, while our protected agricultural lands are being used for monster houses. The dwindling supply of industrial land — where one in four Metro Vancouverites work — suggests that perhaps our industrial lands should be protected the same way our agricultural lands are.

There is still much to be done, and we hope, as the engine of Vancouver's economy, to be included in those discussions.

There are promising developments underway. The provincial government has pledged to incentivize affordable housing and revitalize the province's Agricultural Land Reserve, while the City of Vancouver recently approved its 10-year Housing Vancouver strategy to increase supply and curtail foreign investment. But there is still much to be done, and we hope, as the engine of Vancouver's economy, to be included in those discussions.

On port lands, we're seeing excellent land-use efficiency as terminals in the Port of Vancouver continue to invest in maximizing use of their existing footprints. However, like the growing families continually pushed further from their jobs, the distribution centres and warehouses needed as trade grows are now being built in Calgary because there is no land available closer to port operations. That means lost jobs for B.C. and an inefficient supply chain and more trucks on Highway 1, none of which are good for consumers or the environment.

The Great Transition represents the most livable, sustainable and prosperous scenario for our region, and the port authority looks forward to continued collaboration as we all pull together towards a sustainable future for Vancouver.

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