British Columbia

More than 40 ships backlogged in Port of Vancouver due to rail blockades

One economist says the backlog caused by rail blockades will have impacts on the consumer — from higher gas prices to fewer goods and services.

Delays could eventually mean higher gas prices and fewer goods, economist says

Banners hang on a fence as protesters stage a blockade of the rail line at Macmillan Yard in Toronto. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

More than 40 ships remain backlogged in the Port of Vancouver, a "highly unusual" level of congestion that is a result of recent pipeline protests and blockades, according to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. 

Recent blockades in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who want to stop construction of a Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C. will cause impacts on the consumer — from higher gas prices to a decreased availability of goods and services, one economist says. 

Forty-one ships are currently waiting to get into the Port of Vancouver to unload or pick up goods, said Sean Baxter, a spokesman for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Rail blockades have caused delays in being able to load and unload cargo off ships and onto trains. 

The authority controls 60 anchorages in the Port of Vancouver, Baxter said. Most of them are currently occupied or assigned and another dozen ships are expected to arrive and require anchorages in the next several days, he added. 

"This many vessels at one particular time is fairly unusual for us," Baxter said. 

It's a "spillover" effect from the rail blockades across the country, University of Calgary economist Kent Fellows said. 

Railways are one of the primary ways goods are moved between provinces, Fellows said. 

"Even minor slowdowns can be very effective in causing economic damage that will be felt both on the production side … but also in the increase of costs of living, as you have to wait or pay a little bit more to get some of the goods that you need or that you want," he said.

The impacts could take longer to be seen in bigger cities, Fellows said. Initially, inventory of some goods might appear low. In the long run, residents in the Lower Mainland could start to see gas prices increase, he said.

"Quite a bit of the gasoline now does come into that market on rail, and those tend to be the barrels of gasoline that set the price for the entire Lower Mainland, so that's something to watch out for the longer this persists," Fellows said.

It's not yet clear what overall economic impact the blockades have had, Fellows said, but that will become clear if they continue.

"The point of protests anywhere is to get noticed, and these ones are definitely getting noticed because they are causing pretty significant economic impacts," Fellows said.

"I think it's significant enough that everyone needs to be taking this seriously."

People gathered at the Clark Street entrance of the Port of Vancouver and blocked access on Saturday, Feb. 8, in solidarity with the Wet'suwe'ten Nation and their supporters opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Trudeau calls off Barbados trip to discuss rail blockades

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has cancelled a trip to Barbados scheduled for Monday, instead convening a group to discuss the government's next steps as supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs continue to halt rail service across the country. 

Some business leaders and politicians are calling on the government to take more of an active role in resolving the crisis which some say is damaging the economy and could lead to shortages of propane and other consumer goods.

"Following the government's ongoing efforts to address infrastructure disruptions across the country, the prime minister will convene the Incident Response Group tomorrow to discuss steps forward," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement. The IRG is a group of cabinet members and high-level officials the prime minister leans on in times of crisis.

"Our priority remains the safety and security of all Canadians and the swift resolution of this issue to restore service across the rail system in accordance with the law," the statement said.

With files from The Canadian Press