‘Blow up’ the port (system): MP Peschisolido

Institutional biases have led to fragmented port system, says Steveston-Richmond East MP

The system by which Canadian ports operate needs to be “blown up,” in the words of Steveston-Richmond East Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido, who hosted a town hall at Steveston Community Centre Wednesday (May 15) to discuss the federal government’s Port Modernization Review.

Such a shakeup could mitigate a number of problems related to port activity in Richmond, whilst maintaining the obvious economic benefits of port development, argued Peschisolido.

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Peschisolido told a small audience he doesn’t believe port authorities, particularly Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (Port of Vancouver), are working in unison for the greater national interest. Instead such entities, which are to manage federal land, are competing with one another and expanding their scope beyond the mandate laid out by government.

Furthermore, with its closed-door governance, the port has not been able to work effectively or symbiotically with local government, such as the City of Richmond, said Peschisolido.

Referring to Port of Vancouver lands: “They’ve become more development properties. They’re not stewards of the land acting as a landlord to facilitate the movement of goods coming in and out. They’ve gotten into the property development industry and business. And that’s not the purpose of a port,” said Peschisolido.

In Richmond, for instance, Peschisolido was called upon by residents to stop Harvest Power from polluting the air because it leases port land.

The port, under CEO Robin Silvester, has been controversial elsewhere in Richmond in past years, with approval of a Fraser River jet fuel terminal, acquisition of farmland, lobbying to remove the Massey Tunnel and oversight of aquatic habitat that has drawn skepticism from environmentalists.

“Basically [Silvester] wants to pave everything. Forget about farming, forget about industry; forget about tourism. He wants to pave everything to plop containers.” said Peschisolido.

Earlier this month Silvester told the Financial Post the Pacific Gateway was “missing the boat” because of a lack of infrastructure surrounding the port. But Peschisolido laid blame on Silvester himself. 

“The reason we’ve missed the boat is because of him,” said Peschisolido.

While Silvester told the Post he is advocating for more infrastructure, Peschisolido said he is doing so, so long as the port controls it.

“They’re advocating for them to be the proponents and the builders and then the operators of terminals,” he said.

He explained that Silvester has branched out into policy development with the sole focus of benefitting Port of Vancouver, whereby other industries, including agriculture, can become collateral damage.

Peschisolido wants to see Port of Prince Rupert develop more; he said there is no need for Roberts Bank Terminal II expansion in Delta. 

“The port (of Vancouver) ought to be working with Prince Rupert in a cooperative, collective way,” he said.

“Every other port in the world has an integrated, collaborative approach with other ports,” said Peschisolido.

But Port of Vancouver said it does consider the capacity of other West Coast ports in its planning. 

“Ultimately, however, shippers determine what options to choose, not port authorities,” said port spokesperson Daniele Jang. 

She added that the port believes the current framework is working.

Peschisolido noted Port of Prince Rupert has grown immensely due to the convenience for shippers to get products from Asia to the United States via less busy northern railways.

“We should be having port operations across the province,” he said.

In order to free up land on the coast, Peschisolido said he, unlike Port of Vancouver, is an advocate of inland ports (container shipping and storage), such as the prospective Ashcroft Terminal. 

Ashcroft got a 9.2 million funding announcement last week for upgrades to rail tracks — a move applauded by Silvester in a statement last week. 

The federal review by Transport Minister Marc Garneau intends to re-assess such matters, including the port’s governance structure and how to optimize transportation of goods.

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