British Columbia

Feds approve major expansion B.C. container port despite environmental, labour opposition

The federal government has given the OK for a major new container terminal on Canada's West Coast It says Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta will open up Canada’s throttled marine supply chain, and environmental concerns will be addressed.

Ottawa says Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta will open up Canada's throttled marine supply chain

A rendering shows what Roberts Bank Terminal 2 could look like: a large rectangular growth on an artificial peninsula jutting out into the sea
The proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project. Consultation on the project began in 2011. (Port Metro Vancouver)

The federal government has given the OK to a major new container terminal on Canada's West Coast.

It says Roberts Bank Terminal 2 (RBT2) in Delta, B.C., will open up Canada's throttled marine supply chain and promises environmental concerns will be addressed.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the expanded terminal will increase capacity by up to 60 per cent. Canada's largest port, the Port of Vancouver, is the lead agency.

"More than $275 billion of trade passes through the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority every year. Canada's Pacific Gateway is the country's most important trade corridor," Wilkinson said.

"By the early 2030s, our ports are forecast to be approaching capacity, and we will be unable to meet forecasted demand. So now is the time to be planning ahead."

An artist's rendering shows a large container port on a peninsula with three large ships docked at it.
Another view of Roberts Bank Terminal 2, which has now been approved by the federal government. (Port of Vancouver)

The project will see existing marine container port capacity at Roberts Bank, about 35 kilometres south of Vancouver, expanded. The terminals are built on an artificial peninsula jutting out from the mainland. 

RBT2 will see the artificial peninsula's footprint expand to hold the planned three-berth terminal, which will eventually increase capacity by 2.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, meaning the port can handle about 2.4 million extra 20-foot shipping containers annually.

A man in a suit holds a microphone and speaks in front of a crowd.
Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the project will help the economy, and maintains legally binding conditions will protect the environment. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

"With this approval, we can advance one of Canada's most important trade infrastructure projects to date, bolster our national supply-chain resilience, and deliver generational economic benefits for Canadians and Canadian businesses," said port CEO and president Robin Silvester.

The port says it will cover the estimated $2 billion tab for construction through private investment and long-term leases of port facilities and operator fees.

Expansion sets 370 conditions

The project has been in the works for over a decade and will launch with 370 legally binding conditions, including protection for fish habitat and the creation of routes for them to navigate the environment. 

Requirements also include noise monitoring and no net new noise that would affect killer whales. The Western sandpiper, a shorebird, must also be protected.

"I have spent many years of my life fighting for more sustainable and healthy oceans and a sustainable and healthy planet," Wilkinson said. "I am very focused on ensuring that important environmental issues are effectively addressed."

A killer whale leaps out of the water.
Environmentalists say they are concerned about the impact of the expanded terminal on salmon and the killer whales that feed on those fish. (Elaine Thompson/The Canadian Press)

Wilkinson says the conditions should reduce some existing shipping impacts on the environment.

He highlighted the "active support" of the Musqueam First Nation and "satisfaction" from Tsawwassen First Nations with mitigation measures.

"The foreshore and crabbing areas at Roberts Bank are of the utmost cultural importance to Tsawwassen members," said Chief sxʷamisaat (Laura Cassidy) in a statement.

"While RBT2 poses risks for our treaty rights, we appreciate the hard work and solid commitments made by the port and Canada to respond to our concerns and lift up our role as stewards of our lands and waters."

Mitigation questioned

But environmental groups are extremely skeptical of Wilkinson's claims. They say they worry salmon migrating out and feeding within the Fraser River estuary are being put in danger, along with the killer whales that feed on those fish.

"Every single project that's been approved by the federal government that's causing extinction was approved based on mitigations, and we're still in an extinction crisis," said Charlotte Dawe with the Wilderness Committee.

"These mitigations don't actually work. They're just used as excuses and ways to kind of grant projects like this an approval when they really shouldn't have one."

A man with glasses and a goatee speaks on Zoom in an office room with Canadian flags on the wall and a sign that says Omar Alghabra in the background.
Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra says the port will be 'semi-automated' but will also still create jobs. (Sohrab Sandu/CBC)

Kristen Walters with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation agrees.

"Canada, just four months ago at the UN Biodiversity Conference, made these commitments to halting and reversing biodiversity loss, reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Walters said.

"And now, with this approval of the project, it feels like empty rhetoric."

Dockworkers union opposed

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the project will support up to 1,500 direct jobs at the terminal and 15,000 off-terminal jobs, such as trucking and warehousing positions.

However, Rob Ashton, the national president of the International Longshore Warehouse Union of Canada, says there is deep concern about how the future terminal operator — which has not yet been determined — could simply automate the vast majority of future jobs with the latest technology.

"There's a real good possibility this could be absolutely devastating to the longshore workforce in this province," Ashton said.

"If the Canadian government really cares about the working class in this country, they actually have to look at ways to make it environmentally sound with workers still working." 

Alghabra says all container terminals use automation, and the expanded Roberts Bank will be "semi-automated."

"When done right, automation helps create jobs and improve productivity at the same time, which are key to ensuring our supply chain remains strong."

"We also encourage the port to continue to engage with unions and workers to maximize job potential and growth."

Delta Mayor George Harvie expressed misgivings about the approval for a number of reasons: ecological damage, the need for better policing to combat smuggling at the port, respecting Indigenous rights and traffic impacts, including the replacement for the Massey Tunnel.

"The port expansion has been an issue of concern for residents of Delta for many years now," Harvie said in a statement. "I will continue to work diligently with the federal government and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to ensure this expansion is in line with our vision for Delta."

The Port of Vancouver says a final investment decision still needs to be reached, and regulatory approvals and permits still need to be sought. It says the terminal could take six years to build.


  • A previous version of the story stated the expanded terminal would have extra capacity of 2.4 million containers. In fact, it would have extra capacity to handle 2.4 million containers over the course of a year.
    Apr 20, 2023 10:56 PM PT


Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.