The free trade deal that Stephen Harper has signed in Brussels stands to give Canada a trading edge against its competitors, if we can take advantage of it. The US has not signed such a deal yet and the recent revelation that the US has been spying on the German Chancellor is but one of several factors that makes a quick deal unlikely. For the moment at least it means Canada has preferred access to a market of half a billion people.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters predict it could mean an uptick of some 80,000 jobs for Canadians. With this opportunity in front of us, it is important that the province and the federal government ensure that our enhanced trade is supported by appropriate transportation policy and infrastructure. While Queen’s Park will occasionally make reference to the need for roads and bridges in its policy declarations, the fact is that for the past five years transit has taken up most of the oxygen, and has effectively masked the fact that our road infrastructure needs some real attention if Ontario is to remain competitive as a venue for an export economy.
Consider some facts regarding our transportation future in Ontario:
• Even if the $50 Billion Big Move is fully implemented, by 2031 AM peak period highway vehicle trips will still increase by 23%–this from Metrolinx. There is no comprehensive plan to deal with this increase in road traffic.
• Part of the underlying bias against highways has been the spectre of pollution and smog. Metrolinx’s own projections show that because of ever stringent vehicle emission standards, greenhouse gas emissions will actually drop by one third if the Big Move is implemented, and would even drop slightly with no Big Move at all.
Factor in increased electrification of the automobile fleet, almost a certainty, and measures like intelligent traffic systems, and the air quality picture could very well be even more favourable, despite 23% more cars on the roads.. No one is arguing for a massive highway expansion program, but there are key strategic gaps in the network that need to be addressed. The decision to postpone indefinitely (after more than a decade of study) the Niagara to GTA corridor, is an example of political expediency trumping good research.
Several MTO studies dating back more than a decade have warned that the existing QEW connecting southern Ontario and the GTA with the US border will be inadequate by 2031 or thereabouts, even after existing roads are widened as is being proposed. The province has simply kicked the can down to road on this file. For its part the federal government should reopen the Ontario Quebec Continental Gateway and Trade Corridor process which it abandoned after the recession of 2008.
We need a strategy to turn Ontario into a major crossroads for the shipment of goods— ours to the EU, and theirs– not only to Canada, but potentially to the US as well. Hamilton with its access to highway, marine, rail and air cargo could well develop into the next major Ontario freight hub as increasingly shippers are squeezed westerly out of the GTA. For this to work we need to recognize that we still need to invest in conventional transportation infrastructure.