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Trade Team Canada initiative needed


July 19, 2016
By Chris Lorenc/MHCA

July 19 ,2016 – If we needed more evidence Canada’s infrastructure is in dire need of attention, we now have it. 

A report from of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, The Infrastructure that Matters Most, was released this week. It warns the state of Canada’s trade-related highways, corridors and ports is suffering. A new national investment plan, a bigger commitment to work hand-in-hand with industry, is needed from Canada’s governments.

Here’s one piece of data the report highlights: less than a decade ago, a survey by the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s overall infrastructure 10th against 23 other nations. In 2015, we slid to 23rd, ahead only of Great Britain.

This is alarming. Strong, efficient infrastructure — highways, ports and border crossings that are connected and working together — acts like the arteries that keep trade alive. And trade, responsible for more than 60 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product, is the lifeblood of the economy, our standard of living and the social programs in this country that are envied around the world. 

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The chamber’s report comes on the heels of the Emerson report on Canada’s Transportation Act Review, tabled in Parliament last February. The two combined make a clarion call — a klaxon — for the national, provincial and municipal governments to renew trade infrastructure as a national priority. In fact, David Emerson, the former minister of international trade, calls this a “nation-building” imperative. 

That’s because while Canada has done much to elevate trade infrastructure in past investment schemes — the Building Canada Fund and the Asia Pacific Gateway and Corridors Initiative, for example — there are signs we are at risk now of falling behind. 

The economy has been battered by the Great Recession and the plummet in the world oil prices. Although Canada has gained from trade deals such as NAFTA, new trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership present both an opportunity and a peril.

The TPP, for example, expands access to a world of markets for our goods; it also expands access that nine new countries will have access to Canada’s traditional trading market of North America. Those countries are hungry and ready to compete. Some have already coordinated investment to boost their trade infrastructure. This pulls the World Economic Forum’s ranking of the declining quality of Canada’s overall infrastructure into focus.

Western Canada, which punches well above its weight in trade, cannot get left behind. The Asia Pacific Gateway, the West’s most recent trade-infrastructure investment plan put a total $3.5 billion into connecting western ports, highways and trade hubs. This money helped build Winnipeg’s CentrePort Way. But it’s nearing its end date. We need a new plan, one that sees industry and the public sector pulling together.

The Trudeau government has laid out its priorities. It is putting $60 billion into an updated 10-year Building Canada Fund, and another $60 billion is earmarked specifically for social, transit and green infrastructure. That’s a record level of investment for national infrastructure projects. Yet, the chamber report notes that trade infrastructure “the one that is most integral to the economic well-being of everyday Canadians has yet to be endorsed as a top priority.”

The Manitoba Heavy Construction Association joins the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in pointing out Canada cannot afford to squander the gains made in the past, or to miss the horizon of opportunities in a shifting global trade environment.

As chamber president Perrin Beatty says: “There is the infrastructure we want, like parks and hockey rinks, (and) the infrastructure we need, like schools and hospitals. Then there is the infrastructure that pays for these things — and that is trade infrastructure.”

While we need to be strategic in each of the categories, we must first focus on those investments that grow the economy — for a balanced funding of all of them.

Our association urges governments at all levels to make trade infrastructure a higher priority, balanced alongside green, social and transit infrastructure investment as part of a nation-building imperative to secure our economic and social well-being.

Chris Lorenc is the president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.