Canada’s Infrastructure: Short-Term Grief, Long-Term Relief
Development and Innovation As Canada’s transportation infrastructure ages and our population increases, it is more important than ever to breathe new life into our roads, and mass transit systems.
There are only two seasons in Vancouver: winter and construction. You may have heard that same joke with Vancouver switched out for Toronto. Or Montréal. Or Edmonton. Or Halifax. It works in every Canadian city because those two constants, cold and roadwork, are ubiquitous nationwide. But, when we complain about road closures and increased commute times from these infrastructure projects, it’s important to keep the larger picture in mind.
Commute times: no pain, no gain
“In the short term,” acknowledges Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, “congestion caused by construction can make our commutes a little longer, but these long-term strategic infrastructure projects help create jobs, spur productivity, and help our province grow and prosper.” Since 2003, Ontario alone has invested nearly $100 billion in infrastructure projects, including public transit expansion as well as new roads and highways, and the plan is to spend another $130 billion over the next 10 years.
It’s easy to see the inconvenience caused by the construction of projects like the Union Pearson Express in Toronto and the Kicking Horse Canyon Highway Improvement Project in British Columbia, but we must remember that every bit of infrastructure we enjoy today was a similarly frustrating construction project 20 or 50 years ago. And the continued expansion and renewal of our infrastructure is not only a key component of our social contract as Canadians, it is also absolutely vital to Canada’s economic future.
“There is a need for new mass transit and people-moving infrastructure in the major cities to enable the economic growth of the business sector and to improve quality of life for the 81 percent of Canadians who live in urban areas.”
Transportation drives Canada’s economy
“Developing our trade-enabling infrastructure really underpins everything else that drives the Canadian economy,” says Bill Ferreira, the Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs at the Canadian Construction Association. “The fact that the transportation capacity doesn’t exist for us to make the most of our natural resources is costing us money today. And that will only be exacerbated in the future unless we find some way to address the issue.”
This need for new transportation infrastructure in Canada takes two forms, both sides of the same coin. There is a need for new mass transit and people-moving infrastructure in the major cities to enable the economic growth of the business sector and to improve quality of life for the 81 percent of Canadians who live in urban areas. Then there is also the urgent need to develop entirely new infrastructure networks in the remote parts of the country where the untapped natural resources that drive Canada’s wealth and trade internationally are located.
“The greatest weakness and threat to Canada’s economy,” says Mr. Ferreira, “is that, if our trade infrastructure lags, every other resource, including our financial resources, becomes unsustainable.”
Turning to the private sector for help
Fortunately, governments at every level — municipal, provincial, and federal — across Canada have recognized the urgency of this issue and are planning or building new infrastructure projects today. And, increasingly, governments are looking to public-private partnerships to fulfill these needs.
Using Ps to develop transportation infrastructure is not a new idea. The 407 Express Toll Route in Ontario and the Confederation Bridge, which links New Brunswick with Prince Edward Island, were early trailblazers of the model. The flexibility that comes from private sector involvement allows the government to take on a larger number of new projects, taking advantage of the current low-interest-rate environment to make the major infrastructure improvements that will allow our economy to expand over the next 50 years.
So, the next time you find yourself cursing as a construction project threatens to make you late for work, remember that, especially as the population ages and the Baby Boomers retire, we are depending on the constant expansion and improvement of our infrastructure to keep Canada economically healthy. A dug up road today may mean the continued existence of the social programs we expect and depend on tomorrow.