The truth about a container pier for Sydney

A year ago, Mayor Cecil Clarke pledged to resign if he did not achieve significant progress on port development within a year – or words to that effect.

In a speech this morning, the mayor is expected to announce the fruits of his behind-the-scenes efforts on port development. For his sake and ours, I hope he has some worthwhile, tangible projects to announce.

Cecil could also use this occasion to perform a great public service: Put an end to the officially promoted delusion that Sydney will ever have a container pier.

Nova Scotia already has two container piers, both operating at less than half capacity. The business model conjectured for a third* container pier here — save a day of cheap ocean shipment and replace it with 1500 miles of expensive rail transport — defies logic. It will never happen.

Among other things, it would require hundreds of millions of investment in a decrepit railway that is defunct for lack of business. And for what? So international shippers could land their wares further from market than they could by sailing past Sydney to New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, or Montreal?

Successive politicians and development officers have spent the better part of two decades engaging flim-flam artists to keep this cruel hoax alive. Please stop.

The mayor could show desperately needed leadership by levelling with the people of Cape Breton, as no politician in a generation has had the courage or honesty to do: Acknowledge, once and for all, there will never, ever be a container pier in Sydney Harbour.

Basing economic development work on reality is hard in Nova Scotia; basing it on fantasy is cruel and destructive. We are long past time for the Emperor to put some clothes on.

* A fourth if you count the proposed pier at Melford, on the Strait of Canso, long promoted by one- time cabinet minister Richie Mann. That proposal also defies logic, but it’s closer to fruition than Sydney’s will ever be.