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Associations, Government

Heavy construction associations urgently call for trade-enabling infrastructure

Grant Cameron
Heavy construction associations urgently call for trade-enabling infrastructure

A group of four heavy construction associations in Western Canada are requesting that the federal government make strategic investments in core infrastructure projects that support economic revival and long-term growth.

The group, known as the Western Canada Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association (WCR&HCA), is specifically advocating for funds to be earmarked for trade-enabling infrastructure assets.

Chris Lorenc, president of the association, says long-term investments in infrastructure, especially assets that promote trade, is the best way for Canada to build back better as a full two-thirds of the country’s GDP is generated by trade, higher than figures for the U.S. and many other competitor countries.

“We can not allow the goose that laid the golden egg to simply rot – and that’s what’s happening,” he says.

Lorenc, who is also president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association, was referring to the fact that Canada’s investment commitment to transportation has slipped precipitously on the world stage.

In 2008-09, for example, Canada was ranked 10th in the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index for transportation infrastructure reliability, but with the expiry of programs like the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (APGCI), Canada’s reliability reputation dropped to 32nd by 2019.

The WCR&HCA has outlined its request in a submission on the National Infrastructure Assessment to Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna. The association notes in the submission that the importance of the initiative can not be overstated, and in particular nation-building projects that elevate Canada’s trade competitiveness.

The paper notes creating a reliable inventory and assessing the condition of infrastructure assets is the necessary first step to understanding the current infrastructure investment deficit and determine what Canada needs to enhance domestic productivity and therefore its global competitiveness.

WCR&HCA states strategic investment in infrastructure should support trade as it is the backbone of the economy and it fuels the economic growth and generates the revenues governments need to support vital social programs and critical services, health care, and other assets important for daily life and business.

“It’s an important and critical time to reflect on what it is that we need to do to harness trade to sustain our quality of life and standard of living,” notes Lorenc.

Lorenc says Canada needs a seamless, multi-model transportation system that is efficient, reliable, seamless, and can move people to jobs, natural resources for processing and products to market.

“We need to promote to the world that, notwithstanding Canada’s fall, we recognize the shortcomings of neglect and importance of investing in our future with a sustained, long-term and hopefully eye-on-the-horizon program.”

He says it is important to have a sustained, trade infrastructure investment program across the country.

“The chain is only as solid as its weakest link. The connection needs to be strong at every level. A nation that trades together stays together.”

The group’s submission states Canada’s past recognition of the importance of a modern trade gateway and corridor infrastructure is illustrated in previous nation-building investment programs such as the APGCI, the National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors, the Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway (OQCG), and the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor.

The APGCI, for example, saw $1.4 billion in federal seed money leverage $3.5 billion in total investment, and the resulting build-out of western Canadian port facilities dramatically increased freight volume and movement. Construction and upgrades to highways, grade separations and bridges relieved a series of pinch points, allowing for the fluid, efficient movement of goods to domestic and international markets.

“This is a critical time to renew our commitment to nation-building infrastructure projects,” the WCR&HCA submission states, and the trade potential of new trade agreements, focusing on emerging Eastern and European markets, can not be realized without a new trade transportation infrastructure policy framework.

The submission outlines the elements of a Western Canada Trade Gateway and Corridor Initiative that the association has advanced to Ottawa and the region’s provincial governments. Based on the successes of the other gateway initiatives, the submission lobbies for the federal government to support such a multi-year program to address strategic investment in the western provinces.

The program would invest in projects that encourage domestic and foreign investment in trade-enabling, value-added commerce of the region, including the needs of Arctic and northern communities.

Lorenc says the focus needs to be on Western Canada and what investments they need long-term to support a multi-modal transportation network that allows them to enhance their global trade market profile.

“Western Canada, our country’s port to a vast, untapped Asian market, is indispensable to Canada’s trade profile and productivity and, therefore, its economic health and prosperity,” the brief states. “Done right, a sustained, long-term, robust investment program for Western Canada’s trade gateways and corridors can help secure for generations to come the standard of living Canadians have come to expect.”

The WCR&HCA consists of the British Columbia Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association and the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.

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