It’s time to look seriously at a new approach to infrastructure – by Jack Mintz and Claude Montemarquette (Globe and Mail – June 19, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Jack Mintz is director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. Claude Montemarquette is chief executive officer of CIRANO.

Canada has a major opportunity to position itself for sustained growth in the decades ahead. This opportunity is the creation of a new Northern Corridor, a multimodal infrastructure project (road, rail, pipeline, electricity generation and transmission, air and seaport facilities). It would connect Canada from sea to sea to sea and allow tidewater access to international markets for our renewable and non-renewable commodities.

We have been there before. Just as the national railway, the Trans-Canada Highway, the pipeline network and the St. Lawrence Seaway opened up trade and commerce in the 19th and 20th centuries, a Northern Corridor in this century will not only help get product to diverse markets but also further exploration and development in Canada’s north and near north.

The time is right. Into the foreseeable future, we have prospects for economic growth that would benefit from a major investment in infrastructure – up to $100-billion over 10 years. We have a historically low cost of capital. We have minimal materials and labour cost pressures.

If we plan now, we will be ready to take full advantage of the next upswing in the commodity cycle. Otherwise, the current, already high opportunity cost of not being able to get product to market will be even higher under resurgent demand conditions. Indeed, inaction could result in a permanent loss for commodities whose demand is subject to long-term secular decline or to unforeseen, game-changing technology.

The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary is partnering with CIRANO, the Montreal-based Center for Interuniversity Research and Analysis on Organizations, to form a pan-Canadian research network on this subject. We will test the hypothesis through studies on routing options and rationalization with existing infrastructure; the respective public and private sector business cases and financing options, including aboriginal participation; public policy framework issues; national, regional and local socio-economic impacts; and environmental assessment.

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