The recent Canadian election kept the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia,

from starting work Monday on its proposed container terminal just north of the U.S. border.

Vancouver hoped to begin construction of the $160 million Deltaport complex at Roberts Bank, a landfill island southwest of Vancouver, partially used by North America's largest coal loading terminal. The planned Deltaport terminal is designed to move up to 400,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).Port executives had spent several months obtaining required federal approvals for the project, but said they had not secured a final vote from Canada's federal Treasury Board before the elections last week.

The Vancouver Port Corp. is an semi-autonomous part of the federal government's Canada Ports Corp., but requires Treasury Board approval on projects that cost more than $40 million.

When Jean Chretien's left-of-center Liberals overwhelmingly defeated Canada's Conservative party, the existing Treasury Board was dissolved. "What will the change of government mean for the Port of Vancouver's Deltaport?" asked Ann Reinert, project engineer. "That's the $41 million question. We just don't know."

It's likely to be at least two weeks before the Liberal government makes new appointments to the Treasury Board, she said. Even after their appointments, it may take additional time for the new commissioners to review the financial complexities of Deltaport, she said.

"We should have a better idea of how this will affect us in a couple of weeks, but right now, there's nothing we can tell anyone," she said.

A short delay in the start of construction probably would prove only a minor setback, but Vancouver could face difficult times if lack of final approval dragged on for months, one U.S. port consultant said.

Competitive ports in Seattle and Tacoma know that several shipping lines are due to consider new terminal arrangements in 1995 and 1996, he said. The U.S. ports are racing to get their own container terminal projects built, in the belief that the port that completes state-of-the-art terminals earliest has the best chance of signing leases with major trans-Pacific shipping lines.