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Ottawa should invest in Western trade corridors: CCA and WCR&HCA

The Canadian Construction Association and the Western Canada Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association have pressed federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra to significantly recapitalize the national trade corridors fund to invest in Western Canada’s trade-enabling transportation system.

“Western Canada’s continental corridors and its access to deep-water ports make the region indispensable to Canada’s trade profile,” the CCA and WCR&HCA say in a letter to the minister February 10.

“Accessing Asian markets through Western Canada is key to expanding Canada’s global trade reach. Canada can harness this trade potential by significantly recapitalizing its trade corridor fund with long-term, strategic investments in trade-enabling infrastructure to drive Western Canada’s and our nation’s future economic growth.”

The communication draws the minister’s attention to a proposed Western Canada Trade Gateway and Corridor Initiative (WCTG&CI), which would build on the widely recognized success of past trade corridor programs and leverage the assets of a region that is Canada’s portal to the Asian markets.

Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest growing middle-class populations, key to diversifying Canada’s global trade, which supports 65% of the nation’s GDP. Trade diversification protects economic growth and is in our national security interest, buffering the impact of protectionism and trade weaponization.

Canada is vulnerable to such measures due to its over reliance on the US and China, both of which have engaged in tariffs or trade reprisals in recent years.

However, Canada has also seen its global reputation as a reliable trade partner suffer recently, with the reduced funding for trade-enabling infrastructure, blockades of its transportation system and severe weather in British Columbia that disrupted the flow of goods on vital highways and rail lines.

“Canada’s transportation investments have fallen, causing 30 per cent of businesses to cite transportation infrastructure as an obstacle to exporting,” the letter to Alghabra notes. “Due to the sporadic nature of Canada’s spending on transportation infrastructure, investments have been inconsistent, inefficient and less productive.

“Restoring Canada’s transportation reliability has the power to transform Canada into a reliable trade partner and to regain investors’ confidence.”

The WCR&HCA initiated the WCTG&CI to highlight the need for renewed focus on and investment in Western Canadian trade transportation infrastructure. The initiative, gaining support by leading business and construction associations across the country, proposes a $20-billion federal investment in trade corridors over the next 7 years. It aims to diversify the country’s trade markets in Asia, which is home to some of the world’s fastest growing middle-class populations.

CCA President Mary van Buren said Canada cannot protect its economic and national security interests in absence of trade diversification, and that demands modernizing and constructing new links to help strengthen trade ties.

“The lack of a long-term predictable investment plan on trade-enabling infrastructure has placed Canada at a competitive disadvantage compared to its global trade competitors,” added WCR&HCA President Chris Lorenc. “In fact, it has been described as potentially the biggest barrier to Canada’s export success.”

In 2008-09 Canada was ranked 10th globally in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for transportation infrastructure reliability. However, by 2019, with the expiry of trade programs like APGCI, which specifically targeted trade corridors, Canada’s reliability reputation precipitously dropped to 32nd.