Frontline of the war between economic reality and magical thinking

Canada's agriculture and export industries live side by side with the selfish and clued-out forces that threaten Canada's economic heart

Vancouver is a grungy, hardscrabble port and dock town that thanklessly grinds its living out of handling vast amounts of export and import bulk commodities and goods. It’s a solid pillar of Canada’s economy.

Vancouver is a left-coast haven of kombucha-swilling vegan fantasists self-righteously strangling the very industries they rely upon to support their sanctimonious, effete and indulgent urban lifestyle.

The first statement is definitely true. The second is the kind of thing you’d say if you were frustrated, vexed and infuriated by the kind of people in Vancouver who who block port expansions, mess with railroad tracks, don’t seem to appreciate the rest of Western Canada for providing it with a living, support legislation that threatens the future of the Prairies, and just don’t seem to feel any pain when their neighbours suffer.

Vancouver, where I am right now, exists in that bizarre duality that the agriculture industry and you, the farmer, often has to grapple with: so much of Canada’s economic health is based upon farmers and the agriculture industry, but most Canadians think farming has little or nothing to do with them. Many believe farmers are a drag on the economy, not the dynamic economic force that much of the rest of the economy relies upon.

The truly tight coexistence of the gritty industrial/agricultural reality of Canada with urban lifestyle culture could be seen clearly on the tour of Vancouver’s port that I and a couple of hundred other attendees at the Canadian Crops Convention took today. Grain terminals were placed right up beside pleasant West Vancouver neighbourhoods. Train tracks and grain cars stood in the way of the scenic view of condos and blighted the outlook for millionaire’s mansions.

A port official said that one of the benefits – for farmers – of the port having federal jurisdiction is that local municipal concerns don’t trump national priorities, like keeping the export-oriented economy of much of the rest of Canada going. When somebody wants to build something in the port, they need to get Port authority, not local municipal authority.

Thank god for that! If local municipal concerns ruled, you can quite safely assume boosting the capacity of bulk handling and container loading facilities wouldn’t be a top priority for a councillor running for re-election.

But that was where another threat to the Prairies and Canada’s export economy arose: The federal C-69 law is bogging down developments and threatening hopes for the future of the Port of Vancouver. In China it took one year for a major port expansion to go from idea to built reality, the port official told me. Here, the Port has been working on getting an expansion approval for eight years, and it hasn’t got it yet.

Export industries like those supplied by Western Canadian farmers pay this country’s bills. Ports like Vancouver’s do too. That grungy reality needs to be acknowledged and respected. Pretty places like this rely upon the dust, grunge, blood, sweat, toil and tears of people and industries that seldom get acknowledged. Nobody in Canadian farming and agriculture is asking for any favours, but they don’t deserve to face obstruction and hostility. Canada has a dual reality, between a grungy industrial foundation and a pretty and pleasant urban facade. It’s best to keep these two realities syched, because without the one, you don’t get the other.


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