The provincial government wants to untap the economic potential of the Sunshine Coast by building a fixed crossing to it. Transportation Minister Todd Stone is seeking input from the public on possible routes from the Lower Mainland to Sechelt, Gibsons and the other parts of the Sunshine Coast.
I would agree that building a fixed link would bring growth to that area of the province. But at what cost?
Building a fixed link to the Sunshine Coast would expand the size and density of the Vancouver mega-city even further. There are already people commuting from Chilliwack and Squamish into Vancouver on a daily basis. Having been to Southern Ontario, Japan, and many parts of the States where urban sprawl goes on for hundreds of kilometres, I’m not sure I want to have the same for our province.
Bigger is not always better. If the mega-Vancouver grew, there would be pressure to build even more roads, bridges and other infrastructure in that region.
Building a fixed link means other projects outside the Lower Mainland won’t be built. There is only so many tax dollars to go around. I’m wondering what the mayors of Revelstoke and Golden, who have to endure the carnage every winter on the Highway 1 through their towns think about the fixed link. Building the fixed link would mean delaying other projects, such as possibly the twinning of Highway 1 from Kamloops to the Alberta border.
The government should clearly state what projects won’t be getting funding if the fixed link to the Sunshine Coast is built.
Building a fixed link may grow the Southern Coast of B.C., but what about the rest of the province? I drive through the Cariboo every few months. Every time I go up Highway 97, I see more businesses closed, more houses for sale, more buildings standing empty and abandoned. I don’t have to wait for the latest census to know that small towns in the Interior are struggling.
It may well be that there is “tremendous amount of untapped potential” as Minister Stone said about the Sunshine Coast. But what about the potential of the rest of the province? Many government policies favour the South Coast again and again.
A simple example is mining. Mining is the province’s biggest industry, and the major mines are in the Interior. Even so, there are no mining schools in the Interior of the province. TRU does not have a geology degree or a geological engineering degree, while schools in the Lower Mainland such as UBC and BCIT get government funding for major mining programs.
Small towns such as Williams Lake struggle to attract doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, while healthcare dollars are centralized. Small towns have shut down school after school, making it hard to attract families. Meanwhile Vancouver has been allowed to continue to keep under-utilized schools.
While tax dollars go to the South Coast, the towns in the Interior, which generate the mining, forestry, electric and oil/gas revenues for the province struggle along. The money flows out of the Interior to make Vancouver and area more prosperous.
Mega-cities are definitely one model of economic development, which is the model of Southern Ontario. But there are other places in the world, such as the Netherlands, where all of the cities are more equal in size. More equal in size, and also more equitable in receiving government services.
So before we think about a fixed link to the Sunshine Coast, let’s look at how we can ensure the long term viability of the towns and cities in the rest of the province. Building a province where there is one mega-city but where small towns throughout the Interior are dying is to me the opposite of “tremendous potential”.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.