Preston Manning is the founder of the Manning Centre, and the former leader of the Reform Party of Canada.
Here are some truths that urgently require a co-ordinated response from governments, companies and Canadians whose jobs, incomes and living standards are jeopardized by ignoring them:
First, that the natural-resource sectors (agriculture, energy, mining, forestry and fisheries) are foundational to the Canadian economy, directly and indirectly accounting for over 20 per cent of our gross national product, with the energy sector being the biggest contributor.
Secondly, Canada is losing millions of dollars a day in revenues, plus thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment, because opposition to the building of pipelines to seaboard and world markets forces Canada to sell oil and natural gas to the U.S. market at discounted prices.
As the second-largest country on Earth by area, Canada has roughly the second-largest store of natural resources in the world – something to be immensely proud, not apologetic, about. Canada is also bounded by three oceans, thus requiring clear and unobstructed corridors to move a major portion of our natural resources to seaboard (and thus to overseas markets) by road, railway, pipeline and transmission lines. The immediate requirements are for corridors to the Pacific to access Asian markets and corridors to the Atlantic to replace oil imports from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela with Canadian oil. As more resource development moves further northward, corridors to the Arctic will also be required.
At the macro level, these corridors should be preapproved by the federal and provincial governments, meaning the route and its dimensions are established by regulation or legislation and won’t need to be constantly readjudicated. This would eliminate much of the regulatory and political gridlock which has so far paralyzed Canada’s ability to provide needed national infrastructure. Such infrastructure should also be required to satisfy pre-established criteria pertaining to efficiency, safety and environmental protection. In the case of pipelines and electricity-transmission lines, the issue of contract carriers versus common carriers (such as roadways and rail lines) will also have to be resolved.
Most importantly, the creation and maintenance of these corridors requires a 21st-century political and economic effort equivalent to the 19th-century effort to create Canadian Confederation and build the original Canadian Pacific Railway – what Pierre Berton called The National Dream.
Just as the creation of Confederation and the CPR required a uniting of pre-Confederation political and economic interests to achieve those nationalistic objectives, today we need what might be called “the Corridors Coalition” consisting of governments, companies and citizens dedicated to creating and maintaining the corridors described above.
At the provincial level, the NDP government in Alberta is likely to be replaced by a more effective and market-savvy conservative administration in the spring of 2019. That new government could find sympathetic coalition partners in the conservative governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and, with the right approach, Quebec.
Such a coalition would then need to expand into a public-private partnership involving resource companies and infrastructure builders capable of getting the required corridors financed, built and operating as quickly as possible.
Most importantly, it will be essential for the coalition to broaden its base to include public and interest-group participation – including those Indigenous and environmental groups supportive of responsible resource development. This would be essential to give the coalition and its public supporters the political clout necessary to positively influence, or achieve the replacement of, recalcitrant governments such as the Justin Trudeau government in Ottawa and the John Horgan government in British Columbia.
If the key elements of the “Corridors Coalition” were to be assembled by mid-2019, it could offer a clear and powerful challenge to the federal political parties contesting the 2019 federal election in the fall, by posing the following question:
“Which of you are prepared to unequivocally commit the constitutional, regulatory and financial support of the federal government to the immediate creation and maintenance of the Pacific and Atlantic corridors?”
How the federal political leaders, parties and candidates respond to this demand should be a central issue of the 2019 federal election.
Finally, the creation and success of the “Corridors Coalition” will be of more than domestic significance. The world will be watching to see whether a Western democracy such as Canada with a market-driven economy can build and manage the development of major infrastructure corridors and facilities with speed and efficiency while still genuinely respecting human rights and the need for environmental protection. This, in comparison with the speed and efficiency with which the Communist government of China, can build and manage its state-directed Silk Road and Economic Belt projects while generally disregarding human rights and environmental considerations.
This is the 21st-century ideological contest that the Western democracies with market-driven economies must win. Canada has a chance to show that it can be done.