'Not since Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy in the 1870s has Canada had such an opportunity to build such a monumental infrastructure project with the potential to transform the country's economy."
That quote, from Senator David Tkachuk (chair of the Senate standing committee on banking, trade and commerce), is taken from a June 21 report in which the Senate recommends federal government support for an in-depth research program on the Canadian Northern Corridor concept.
The Senate report, titled National Corridor: Enhancing and Facilitating Commerce and Internal Trade, is a response to a paper by Andrei Sulzenko, an executive fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, and myself. Our report, published late last year, established the potential merit of a Canadian Northern Corridor. The Senate report is, to co-opt established language, a "sober second look" at our proposal.
It constitutes the Senate committee's views on the concept following extensive consultation (both written and oral) involving 39 individuals representing more than two dozen organizations from both the private and public sectors. While the Senate was presented with a diverse set of views on the concept, there was almost unanimous agreement that we need to have a serious discussion about it – and it needs to happen soon.
The corridor concept is the idea that a single right of way across Canada's North and Near North could be organized and jointly governed. The corridor would provide a controlled atmosphere for transportation infrastructure (minimizing the environmental and geographic footprint that would occur from unco-ordinated development) and would reduce the risk and uncertainty surrounding infrastructure-investment decisions in Canada.
The concept constitutes a governance approach and predetermined right of way that would jointly facilitate private- and public-transportation infrastructure investment intended to move goods – exports and imports – both internally (between Canadian communities) and externally (between Canada and its export partners). The resulting infrastructure would assist with trade diversification, supporting increased trade between Canada and export partners in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Given the increasingly common renegotiation of Canada-U.S. trade agreements such as the North American free-trade agreement and the Softwood Lumber Agreement (where the recent addition of yet another U.S. tariff brings the average duties on Canadian softwood lumber to an alarming 27 per cent), stronger ties with other markets not only give us options for the destination of exports, they also strengthen our bargaining position with the United States, our dominant trading partner.
Looking inward, the corridor would also promote more efficient internal trade between Canadian communities and provinces. In strengthening these ties, it will support northern and Indigenous economic and social-development goals, promoting the development of investment and employment opportunities and lowering the cost of living in remote communities. In light of this, First Nations organizations in particular have been generally supportive of the concept (both in Senate testimony and in consultation with the School of Public Policy) and have shown considerable interest in participating directly in research on the subject.
When considering the physical and cultural linkages between provinces and communities within Canada, it is evident that Canadians have come to take Confederation for granted – at least from an economic perspective. Increasingly, interprovincial relationships are illustrated as competitive rather than collaborative. Provinces argue back and forth about topics such as interprovincial differences in the taxation of goods such as beer and wine, the often misunderstood topic of transfer payments and, perhaps most critically, infrastructure projects. As a country, we have lost hold of the idea of Confederation as a tool to co-operate and increase the size of the economic pie; instead, we seem content to argue over the size of everyone's slice.
At the completion of the Canadian Pacific main line, Macdonald said: "We are made one people by that road, that iron link has bound us together in such a way that we stand superior to most of the shafts of ill-fortune." The railway made Confederation possible, and Confederation made Canada possible. Now, on the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we need to continue that work. We need to ensure continued and co-ordinated investment in national transportation infrastructure to ensure that our progress over the past 150 years is not lost during the next 150.
We need to take a serious look at the Canadian Northern Corridor concept.