Cross-Canada corridor concept getting dusted off ahead of election

Dedicated infrastructure corridors have had success in other jurisdictions, report finds

Cross-Canada corridor concept getting dusted off ahead of election

The notion of a pan-Canadian corridor dedicated to rail, power lines and pipelines has been around for at least half a century but it looks like it’s about to get a big publicity boost.

Last week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer used a major pre-election policy speech to dust off a similar idea. Scheer promised, if he wins October’s election, that he would to work towards establishing a cross-country “energy corridor.”

He said planning for the route would be done up front, in consultation with provinces and Indigenous communities. A right-of-way would make iteasier to lower environmental assessment costs, improve certainty for investors and increase the chances more projects will be built, Scheer said.

Interest in a coast-to-coast corridor has picked up in recent years. Energy infrastructure proposals have failed to secure approval due to tough regulatory processes and community concerns over environmental impacts.

For instance, the shortage of pipeline capacity out of oil-rich Alberta has created a bottleneck that’s harmed both the provincial and national economies. Sellers have had to sell at deep discounts because there simply isn’t the transportation capacity to get oil to willing buyers.

In the last few years, a few academics and senators have recommended the federal government give the corridor concept a serious look, even though making it happen would be a big, multi-jurisdictional undertaking.

ALSO READ: Court to rule on B.C.’s pipeline permit law in crucial case for Trans Mountain

Scheer’s pitch appears to have drawn inspiration from a 2016 University of Calgary paper that offered possible solutions through a northern corridor for transportation and infrastructure.

G. Kent Fellows, who co-authored the report, said the right-of-way could be used for roads, rail, pipelines, electricity transmission lines and telecommunications. The study’s proposed 7,000-kilometre corridor would also serve communities well north of the existing east-west routes that run closer to the U.S. border. In concept, a main line and offshoots would connect ports in northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to Churchill, Man., eastern Quebec and Labrador.

The hurdles of consultations and regulatory oversight for new projects are significant, Fellows said.

“Those regulations are definitely there for a reason, but we were trying to come up with a better model,” he said.

Dedicated infrastructure corridors have had success in other jurisdictions, including Europe and Australia, Fellows said.

Pipelines are very good at generating economic benefits at both ends of the line, and not so much in the middle — but roads, rail, electricity and telecom can help people all along the route, Fellows said.

“You might not make everyone 100-per-cent happy, but the goal is to try to make everyone a little bit happier than they are now,” said Fellows, who co-wrote the paper with Andrei Sulzenko.

The creation of a corridor could take decades, or even half a century, and a “back of the envelope” calculation estimates it could cost something like $100 billion, Fellows said.

The study caught the attention of a Senate committee, which took a closer look at the concept in 2016 and 2017.

In a 2017 report of its own, the committee called the corridor idea a “visionary, future-oriented infrastructure initiative” that would create significant economic opportunities for Canada and help develop northern regions.

“Because an initiative of this scale and scope would likely take decades to complete, the federal government — on a priority basis — should ensure that a feasibility study on the proposed northern corridor is undertaken,” said the committee report.

Senators recommended the government dedicate up to $5 million to the University of Calgary to support further research into the corridor.

The committee report noted how a 1971 report by Richard Rohmer — an air-force veteran of D-Day who became a prominent land-use lawyer with the ear of governor general Roland Michener — proposed the development of a “mid-Canada” corridor, recommending federal, provincial and territorial governments make it an urgent priority. Rohmer imagined a massive transportation network for goods and people could turn communities such as Flin Flon, Whitehorse and High Level into major new urban centres.

The report was presented then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau but the committee said his government never moved forward on the idea.

Christopher Ragan, a McGill University professor, said he recalls the University of Calgary corridor study and he thinks it’s “quite a striking idea” that makes a lot of sense.

Ragan, who served on federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s economic advisory panel, said he’s glad Scheer has taken up the concept of a corridor and bringing it to the public’s attention as a serious idea.

On climate change, Ragan said the country will want to find ways to get through tough approval processes to run more east-west energy grids. For example,he said clean electricity could move from British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba into Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Ontario to help displace fossil-fuel generation.

Ragan is also head of the Ecofiscal Commission, a group of academics focused on economic and environmental solutions.

“I don’t frankly care whether it’s an old idea or a new idea — but it is a new idea in terms of a real-world, policy practical discussion … It’s good that you actually have politicians starting to talk about this.”

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kiana Chamberland was last seen April 15 in Esquimalt. (Victoria Police Department)
MISSING: Kiana Chamberland, considered at high risk

The 24-year-old was last seen April 15th in Esquimalt

Six people are said to have escaped injury and are currently receiving assistance after an early Sunday morning fire in Central Saanich displaced them. (Central Saanich Fire Department/Twitter)
Six people escape early Sunday morning fire in Central Saanich unharmed

Cause of the fire on Galbraith Close remains under investigation

Applied theatre researcher Dennis Gupa wearing a traditional Filipino malong at a local beach in Victoria. (Credit: John Threlfall)
UVic researcher uses theatre to empower marginalized voices, fight climate change

Dennis Gupa looks to create new modes of expression, knowledge sharing

Metchosin ecologist Andy MacKinnon is raising alarm bells for arbutus trees, as many are falling victim to a fungus called leaf blights. The leaves and branches of the trees are turning brown or black and then dropping off, eventually killing them. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)
Vancouver Island arbutus trees fighting for survival against parasites

Many trees weakened, turning black or brown and dying, says local ecologist

Sooke resident Lesa Cro started up a new pet waste removal business. Cro goes to yards in the region, removes all of the waste and then composts it, so that it doesn’t go into landfills. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)
New pet poop-scooping business picks up in Sooke

Poop No More service taking the ‘dirty work’ out of lawn cleaning

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Most Read