Leaders in the shipping and transportation industry are applauding the federal government's $2-billion commitment to building a national trade corridor.
The National Trade Corridors Fund, a part of the Trade and Transportation Corridor Initiative (TTCI), is inviting infrastructure proposals to address delays and bottlenecks in this country's major ports of entry and anything else that will help improve the flow of goods between Canada and international markets.
Submissions must be in by Sept. 5, 2017.
"As the movement of goods in Canada grows, disruptions caused by bottlenecks in our trade corridors, or vulnerabilities associated with our changing climate, for example – could limit the benefits from this growth in trade," Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said on Tuesday at a luncheon at the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.
The country's ports handle about $203-billion in import and export cargo annually and are responsible, directly and indirectly, for nearly a quarter of a million jobs, according to the Association of Canadian Port Authorities.
Diane Gray, chief executive of Winnipeg-based Centreport Canada, North America's largest inland port, said the need for funding was no secret.
"I think everyone would acknowledge that there is an infrastructure deficit and it's not exclusive to Canada but North America-wide. Most of our trade-oriented infrastructure is 30-plus years old," Ms. Gray said.
The move is part of a $10.1-billion investment into trade and transportation projects over the next 11 years that was announced in November, 2016, and was included in the 2017 federal budget.
"Investment to eliminate bottlenecks in Vancouver and the [B.C.] Lower Mainland will allow grain from the Prairies and other Canadian commodities to reach world markets more efficiently, strengthening Canada's economy and improving our nation's strategic trade and supply-chain infrastructure," Luc Jobin, CEO of Canadian National Railway Co., said in an e-mail statement.
Wendy Zatylny, president of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities, said that the funding was needed to keep up with the times but isn't necessarily a sign of disarray or inadequate flow at the country's ports.
"The term bottlenecks gives the impression that there's all kinds of cargo jamming up in places, but that's not the case here," Ms. Zatylny said. "Port authorities have been working very hard to smooth out the speed bumps in the supply chain, but the problem is that the situation is constantly changing and evolving."
Ms. Zatylny said that one of the changes the industry needs to prepare for is the advent of larger container ships, which is being addressed by some U.S. ports by deepening the shafts they move through. She also mentioned some legacy issues such as updating rail lines or helping ease the flow of trucks carrying goods in and out of urban centres.
"Infrastructure projects take years to design and build to begin with. You can't just be responding to problems today," she said.
Regional initiatives such as this one have succeeded in the past. In 2006, the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative was started and the federal government provided $75-million for the Robert Bank Rail Corridor Projects.
"That investment has enabled our current $300-million private sector expansion investment in the Intermodal Yard Reconfiguration Project at GCT Deltaport. It is a perfect example how appropriate public-sector investments enable private-sector investments," Stephen Edwards, president and CEO of GCT Global Container Terminal Inc., said in a statement. GCT Global operates the flagship terminal GCT Deltaport at the Port of Vancouver.
Mr. Edwards said the company was encouraged by the announcement.
Included in the $2-billion being allocated is a $400-million fund specifically for northern transportation infrastructure.
"The fact this project dedicates specific funding for northern infrastructure makes a lot of sense. It's expensive to build infrastructure in the North, but it's absolutely necessary to build the economies of Northern Canada as well," Ms. Gray said.
Also announced as part of the TTCI was $50-million being set aside over five years to work on disruptive transportation technologies, such as self-automated vehicles, and $50-million over 11 years to launch an information system by the new Canadian Centre on Transportation Data.