Do environmental concerns explain why Vancouver Mayor Robertson is busy chasing trains and is silent on the decline of the cruise ship industry?
Mayor Gregor Robertson and his merry band of spinmeisters were off to Washington state last week chasing yet another Obama pipe dream known as high speed rail along the corridor between Portland and Vancouver. The Mayor's staff made sure His Worship had a media availability session before he left in order to help position the trip. Then promptly after his return, Gregor was back on the talk radio and media circuit providing the citizens of Vancouver with an update on his progress.
What offends me most about Mayor Gregor heading down to Washington to chase down Obama’s back-of-napkin plan for high speed rail, is what Robertson is not doing back home instead. I’ve been writing for months now that the Metro Vancouver region desperately lacks a common economic strategy. That's because the 22 municipalities that make up Metro Vancouver have yet to figure out how to craft a regional economic strategy.
What happened last week with both Mayor Robertson and Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan is a classic example of what is wrong with the system. Corrigan was off on a junket to China pleading with their business community to invest in his city, while Robertson was down south in Washington pushing Obama's high-speed rail concept.
Before either of these mayors decided to head out of the country, did they actually spend any face time mapping out what they could do locally to help improve the local economy? Did either of them decide that calling a meeting of Metro Vancouver mayors to begin discussions on a regional economic strategy might actually pay bigger dividends than chasing a dream or being wined and dined by Chinese officials? I rather doubt it.
If Mayor Robertson or Mayor Corrigan were really concerned about economic development, they would first clean up their own back yard. For far too long, we’ve been the only major region in Canada without a cohesive and formalized economic strategy. You’d think a global recession might have woken our local civic officials up to this reality, but it would appear not.
In the last few months alone, we’ve lost a number of cruise ships who plan to no longer call Vancouver home port. Despite this reality, there was nary a peep from Mayor Robertson or his Vision colleagues regarding this huge dollar hit to Vancouver's economy. Each of these ships represents millions of dollars of economic activity for Vancouver.
Unfortunately, Vancouver’s new green mayor has to deal with the reality that most of his American sustainability supporters see cruise ships as an environmental pariah. There is simply no way Robertson could spend more than a passing moment trying to keep cruise ships in our harbours, while they are on every environmental hit list. His support for cruise ships would go over about as well as his endorsement of Gordon Campbell in the last provincial election campaign.
One need only take a look at the following excerpt from a enviro blogger known as aboutmyplanet.com to get a taste of what Robertson is up against:
Cruise ship pollution is unfortunately one of the worst examples of the old saying "of out of sight out of mind". After all, only a handful of us live along the coast and even fewer actually see a cruise ship in ports or at sea. Floating out of sight, many cruise ships have been ignorantly dumping disgusting amounts of waste into our oceans for years. Diesel exhaust from one cruise ship alone produces more diesel pollution then created by 1000 trucks per day. On average, a week long cruise produces approximately 50 tons of garbage, 4.5 million liters of gray water (wastewater from sinks, showers, kitchens and laundry) and nearly a million liters of sewage. As is if that isn’t bad enough, a week trip also averages about 150 000 liters of oil-contaminated water, toxic chemicals form dry cleaning, photo processing, paint and garbage.
You can see why it is much more fashionable (and palatable for Robertson's supporters) to zip down to Washington and push more "environmentally friendly" high speed trains than openly endorse the cruise ship industry.
This has gotten so out-of-hand it appears the Mayor has now been convinced by his supporters that these new trains could somehow replace or mitigate the loss of cruise ships. If he believes this, he really is on a Happy Planet. Do you know how many high speed trains would have to come into Vancouver every day in order to come close to generating the economic impact one ship can have on the local economy? Not to mention the negative impact fewer cruise ships could have to the international airport and the 25,000 jobs it sustains each year.
I’m not opposed to a high-speed rail line. Bring it on if it's economically feasible. However, when it comes to being in government the Mayor has to focus on a few priorities and deliver on them before the next election. Developing a regional economic strategy and retaining our cruise ship industry should take precedence over a new high speed train that should the called the Pipe Line. Accomplishing these two goals are also something Robertson could actually get done before the next election, unlike his grandiose commitment to end homelessness by 2015.