Here are the visionaries for Canada’s 12 big nation-building projects from 1812 to 2012 selected by the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE). How many do you recognize?

Colonel John By, Thomas C. Keefer, William C. Van Horne, Clarence D. Howe, J. R. Nicholson, Lionel Chevrier, W. B. Lewis, Thomas Wardrope Eadie, John Herbert Chapman, J. Howard Pew and Robert Bourassa … only eleven names!  One of these visionaries was the champion for two projects. What a legacy! Each of these twelve projects involved specific private/public sector risk-sharing mechanisms, without which they would not have proceeded. Why are these not our standard templates for moving ahead? Who will go down in history as visionaries for Canada’s next round of nation-building projects? Not yet known but even more disconcerting, would we even recognize him?

Almost every major Canadian infrastructure project now being considered is stalled because we are unable to reach a national consensus. Social media has provided a platform for mobilizing those opposed to such projects. 

When Peter Lougheed established the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) in 1974, investment by oil companies in Canada was restored and a transformative new heavy oil technology was developed, SAGD.  The Premiers and Territorial leaders came close to following in Lougheed’s footsteps in creating their 2015 Canadian Energy Strategy.  Major new energy infrastructure opportunities were identified in this strategy but the follow-up by the Council of the Federation is hugely disappointing.  An opportunity to establish AOSTRA II, to keep private sector investment in Canada, was missed.

A process is now needed to achieve a consensus for new nation-building projects balancing economic and environmental priorities, capturing the views of all those effected by such projects, in particular the views of indigenous peoples.

The methodology used by CAE to evaluate 27 energy pathways in 2007 has been updated to connect Canada’s economic and environmental targets set by various levels of governments with the aspirations of Canadian citizens.  Examples of recently considered Canadian big projects have been evaluated as illustrated in the adjacent chart.

Once a new visionary project is defined in broad scope it should be evaluated by a cross section of Canadians highlighting issues that must be addressed.  A new cadre of Canadian visionaries would find a willing and hopefully helpful reception.