NEWS RELEASE: Better Northern Transportation Links Will Be Expensive But Are Essential For Economic And Social Development

Go to the Conference Board of Canada website for Northern Assets: Transportation Infrastructure in Remote Communities

Ottawa, December 15, 2011 – The high cost of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure in Canada’s North means that governments and private investors must make hard choices and find ways to balance competing interests, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North.

“The long distances and harsh climate can make investments in transportation infrastructure difficult to justify, but better connections to and within the North are essential for both job growth and access to public services like health care and education,” says David Stewart-Patterson, Vice-President, Public Policy. “What happens in the North matters to Canada as a whole, and better road, rail, air and marine links are key to enabling Northern communities to achieve their full potential.”

The report, Northern Assets: Transportation Infrastructure in Remote Communities, offers six recommendations for policy-makers:
• Assess the full value created by infrastructure as well as its life-cycle costs;
• Recognize and address conflicting public, business, community, and individual interests;
• Take measures to adapt to the effects of climate change;
• Ensure community residents are prepared for the impacts of development;
• Consider traditional and alternative financial arrangements, including public-private partnerships, while ensuring that risks are managed properly; and
• Build and maintain efficient and reliable supply chain partnerships.

The report includes a detailed case study of the Port of Churchill, Canada’s only deepwater Arctic port. The case study suggests that Churchill could play a larger role in Canada’s shipping industry, but would require substantial investment in transportation infrastructure in and around the community.

The Churchill case study illustrates how an overall transportation strategy for Canada’s North must address all modes of transport to deal with diverse regional and community needs, including:
• The development of more all-season roads, such as the planned route to connect Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, to the Manitoba highway system;
• Rail investment to maximize the potential of the port of Churchill for both import and export traffic,
• Improved sea-lift capacity to serve coastal and island communities; and
• Investigation of new transportation technologies, such as hybrid airships.

Building better connections to and between remote Northern communities is costly. The Northern climate adds to the ongoing costs of operating and maintaining infrastructure; while the low population density and low shared use of the infrastructure leads to even higher measures of cost per resident. Given the costs, transportation infrastructure may turn out be the decisive factor in private investment decisions, especially for large, capital-intensive and export-oriented projects.

The report is produced by the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North, which works with Aboriginal leaders, businesses, governments and communities to provide new insights into how sustainable prosperity can be achieved in the North. The Centre will establish and implement strategies, policies and practices to transform that vision into reality.

For more information contact
Brent Dowdall
Manager, Communications