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(Jeff McIntosh)
(Jeff McIntosh)

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Open skies, open doors Add to ...

As the closest link between North America and the fast-growing economies of Asia and the Pacific, and well-placed along time-saving polar routes to Europe, Western Canada sits at a unique global crossroads. To seize the opportunities that unique position creates, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have worked with the federal government to improve highway infrastructure, border crossings, sea ports and airports.

Those improvements are allowing Western Canada to become the gateway of choice for trade and travel by sea and road. Our next step is to work seriously to ensure we are the preferred choice for air travel as well. To meet our full economic potential, we need to expand international air service so airlines can have unencumbered access to our airports.

Business, aviation and government leaders from around Canada and the world are gathering in Vancouver this week to discuss and promote "open skies" agreements, which would open our airports and build our economy. Open skies would give international airlines the ability to fly to Canadian airports without restrictions on the number of their flights, or their ability to pick up passengers and carry on to a third country. They also give Canadian airlines the same rights in return.

These agreements are negotiated between national governments, and ours deserves credit for its hard work so far. Just a few months ago, the federal government reached an open-skies agreement with South Korea.

The problem is that even though more than 80 countries have some form of bilateral agreement with Canada, such as recently improved agreements with New Zealand, South Africa and the European Union, only eight have the kind of unfettered access enjoyed by South Korea. A recent study by the International Institute of Transport and Logistics (commissioned by the B.C. government and Vancouver International Airport) found that a full open-skies agreement with Japan alone would increase passenger volume by almost 16 per cent, reduce fares by more than 10 per cent and bring in an additional $55-million for Canada's tourism industry.

In today's global economy, it simply doesn't make sense to put needless restrictions on Canadian companies, or companies that want to work in Canada. While we acknowledge the work that the federal government has done to date, we can't afford to rest. We need to aggressively pursue more agreements. When countries and companies choose the United States instead of Canada because access and logistics are easier, it can be very difficult to get that business back.

Connection to the massive economies of Asia and the Pacific can mean an increase in trade of $230-billion for Canada by 2020 and hundreds of thousands of new jobs for Western Canada alone. We've been working with Ottawa to build the infrastructure we need to support this growth - open-skies agreements with our key trading partners facilitate the movement of business people, investors and tourists, enhancing opportunities throughout Western Canada.

In British Columbia, 33 airports have been expanded and/or upgraded. Working with the federal and provincial governments, the private sector and other partners, more than $170-million was invested to upgrade Prince Rupert's port. More than $3-billion is being invested in a program to improve bridges and highways around the Lower Mainland to streamline the movement of goods and people.

Alberta has more than 80 community and regional airports, including international airports in Edmonton and Calgary. The province has invested nearly $4-million for runway improvements and upgrades to support these facilities over the past couple of years. The province also continues to invest in key transportation infrastructure, including the Edmonton and Calgary ring roads, the North-South Trade Corridor and other critical provincial routes that support and increase connectivity to these airports throughout the province.

In Saskatchewan, the government's new Transportation for Growth Strategy is aimed at improving and expanding the province's links to international markets through ports in British Columbia. Public and private investment in Regina's new Global Transportation Hub will be close to half a billion dollars. In partnership with the federal government, Saskatchewan is also completing 600 kilometres of twinning on major highways.

All of those investments are first steps. We need open-skies agreements in order to take full advantage of our opportunities.

In fewer than 150 days, the world is coming to Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. The images and stories of our country will be broadcast to an audience of three billion people. Yet without open-skies agreements, 90 per cent of the countries competing in the Games will face restrictions on their ability to fly here.

Elected officials at every level, in every part of the country, are working hard to rebuild a strong and competitive economy and create jobs. Working together to push for open-skies agreements makes sense. These agreements generate jobs, economic activity, and investment. They reaffirm the West's role as the gateway to North America, and they are an enormous economic potential.

Open-skies agreements are is simply the right thing to do in today's interconnected, global, and open trade-based economy.

Gordon Campbell is Premier of British Columbia. Ed Stelmach is Premier of Alberta. Brad Wall is Premier of Saskatchewan.

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