Prince Rupert found itself in the middle of an international incident last week as the Canadian government took aim at what it sees as protectionism by the U.S. government when it came to an approximately $15 million upgrade to the Alaska ferry terminal.
As a taxpayer-funded body, the Alaskan government was required to adhere to Buy America legislation that would have required all of the steel for the dock upgrades to come from the United States. But since the terminal rested on land owned by the Canadian government and administered by the Prince Rupert Port Authority, Minister of International Trade Ed Fast said that simply would not be allowed to happen.
“We have been clear: The application of protectionist Buy America provisions on Canadian soil is unacceptable and an affront to Canadian sovereignty,” he said in a statement on Jan. 19.
“Buy America provisions deny both countries’ companies and communities the clear benefits that arise from our integrated supply chain and our commitment to freer and more open trade. We call upon our American friends to join with us to end the harm such policies are doing within our shared North American economy.”
While the State of Alaska could have asked for a waiver of the clause in this case, it declined to do so, leading to the Canadian government to sign an order under the rarely-used Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act to secure “Canada’s right to prevent compliance with the Buy America provisions for this project”. The result was the State of Alaska cancelling plans to move forward with the upgrades at this time.
The decision puts at-risk a $15 million investment in the area, but Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain said he is confident the project will move ahead at a later date.
“I talked to Minister Ed Fast, I talked to the deputy chief of staff for the Governor of Alaska and I’ve talked with MP Nathan Cullen … the assessment I have is all parties know how this will affect things on the ground in Prince Rupert. I think once the election is over in the fall, the Alaska government will re-release the call for bids because they do feel this is an issue in an election year,” he said
Brain said he plans to raise the topic when leaders from the region get together later this year.
“When the Southeast Alaska Conference comes up I will be hosting a Mayor’s Forum to see if we can come together with one voice on this and other subjects,” he said.
However, the cancellation of the project at this time did not sit well with those in the tourism industry.
“The cancellation of the bid process on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal in Prince Rupert should be a major concern for both local residents and their community, provincial and national leaders. It appears that politics has clouded Ottawa’s judgement on an important piece of transportation infrastructure that ultimately benefits our community, Northern B.C. and Canada,” wrote Tourism Prince Rupert board chair Scott Farwell in a letter [see Page A7 for the complete letter].
“While the Canadian government touts it as a threat to Canada’s sovereignty, the fact remains that the Americans are the ones paying for the upgrades—no Canadian dollars are involved at all—and thus deciding what products they want to be used in construction. Is this different than a local homeowner deciding to renovate their home and choose the products they desire? If not, why is it we should feel differently about a ferry operator looking to make an investment in infrastructure at no cost to the Canadian taxpayer?”
While some in Alaska, including an editorial published in the Juneau Empire, have pointed to this as a reason to leave Prince Rupert, Brain said he doesn’t see that happening.
“They have assured me there is no intention to cut Prince Rupert from the route,” he said.
“Prince Rupert and Alaska have a strong relationship.”