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Better railway connections for people and freight – such as this CP line through the Rocky Mountains near Banff, Alta. – is one idea to improve Canada’s infrastructure. (TODD KOROL/REUTERS)
Better railway connections for people and freight – such as this CP line through the Rocky Mountains near Banff, Alta. – is one idea to improve Canada’s infrastructure. (TODD KOROL/REUTERS)

Canada Competes

Four ideas to build a better Canada through better infrastructure Add to ...

Trains, not planes and automobiles

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson

Canada’s 26th Governor-General, author, former television host and journalist, cultural champion

We built a country where we foresaw the need to be connected for goods, and populations, and so forth. The country would never have been formed if not for railroads. Now, we are more connected via digital, but as bus schedules shrink and train lines disappear I’m worried all the time that people in smaller centres will lose that contact with larger communities. Commuting by car is not easy, and it takes so much time, and that is lost profitability and also in terms of people’s ability to do their work. Why do we not have a public transportation system, which goes ahead of where we’re planning to have new communities?

To me in many ways, an ideal sized community is 30,000 to 60,000 people. Brandon, Man.: That kind of community is large enough to have people do what they want and live where they want. I think smaller communities are still very viable, if we just think of making sure that people have choices when there’s a need for them to go places, that they can do it without their own investment in a car. We have the luxury of not having a car, because we live right in the centre of Toronto, we walk and we are serviced by a terrific transportation system. Why should the people in the cities have more access to things than people who want to live in and create their businesses in smaller communities?

We go to France quite a lot, and the infrastructure of railways is quite incredible. When I was a student in France, the fast train from Paris to Marseille took 13 hours. Now, the trip is just under three hours on the TGV, and it is just amazing. We don’t realize how backward we are. We don’t realize that in Germany, Italy, Spain the linkups are incredible. We don’t realize how much we could ease things for people and business. People wouldn’t feel like they have to move from smaller towns in order to succeed. Then people can stay where they would like to live, and it leads to the creation of smaller local industry.

There are rail lines around, that just need to be brushed off, I don’t think they’ve been dug up. I think we’ll look back and think of this absurd time when people went about in tens of thousands dollars worth of machines and then filling them up at $2.10 a litre, and wonder “did that really make sense?”

A green grid that’s smart

David Miller

President and CEO of WWF-Canada, former mayor of Toronto, Future of Cities Global Fellow at Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Imagine this headline: Canada’s Green Energy Poised to Power the World. It isn’t a utopian dream. It’s an attainable solution. The technology that will enable it is here, now, in the form of next-generation “smart” electricity grids.

Innovations in grid infrastructure will maximize energy efficiency and meet power demand consistently by drawing on a much wider and cleaner variety of energy sources. Two-way communication between consumers and the grid will help people save power and money.

The ability to deploy distributed generation will maximize the potential of renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal), making both fossil fuel generation and big, baseload power ultimately obsolete. Resilient and self-healing, smart grids will virtually eliminate shortages and blackouts.

But, like all disruptive technology, the real transformative power of smart grids will be driven by human creativity. Think about, for example, transportation – Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying public transit and personal vehicles through green-powered grids would represent a massive step forward in meeting global climate imperatives, while simultaneously spurring the growth of infrastructure for more livable cities.

Further, there’s the opportunity to take full advantage of Canada’s manufacturing base, our energy expertise, well-educated work force, and most importantly, our vast renewable energy potential – one of the greatest in the world. Think about green electrons flowing south to help the United States lower emissions, while Canadian-made green technology and know-how is exported across the world.

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