Op-ed: Transport Canada 2030 strategic plan missing a key plank

Op-ed: Transport Canada 2030 strategic plan missing a key plank

By: Barry Prentice ~ news.umanitoba.ca

The following is an op-ed written by Barry Prentice, professor of supply chain management in the Asper School of Business. It was originally published in the Hill Times on Feb. 22, 2021.

In 1936, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King observed “that if some countries have too much history, we have too much geography”. Transportation accessibility is a chronic problem for northern Canada. When Mackenzie King made this statement, giant airships were still flying across the Atlantic Ocean. 84 years later, similar airships could play an important role in the national strategy for transportation, as set out in the five themes of the Transport 2030 vision.

Economically, Canada is like two countries. About 30% of the landmass has low-cost access by all modes of transport and a highly developed economy. The other 70% is an impoverished frontier that depends on seasonal ice roads for inland transport and annual sea lifts for communities on the coast. Transport 2030 addresses this area under the theme “Waterways, Coasts and the North”.

Enhancing Northern transportation infrastructure is a stated goal of this theme. The challenges are costs and climate change. On average, construction costs $3 million per kilometre to built gravel roads in the Canadian Shield and the Arctic. Just to convert the ice roads to gravel in Ontario would cost over $1 billion. The large number of ports required in the North is similarly unaffordable.

Lack of reasonably-priced, year-round cargo transport leads to dire living conditions in the remote northern communities. The pandemic has shone light on its consequences. Food insecurity, overcrowded housing and underlying health problems (diabetes, mold aliments, tuberculosis) make this population extremely vulnerable to Covid19. Without a change in transport, these terrible conditions will persist.

Cargo airships could provide year-round service and cut freight costs in half. This would enable housing construction to continue throughout the year and make nutritious food affordable. The Government of Canada spends over $100 million each year to subsidize the transport of food to the North, and food prices are still sky-high.

Read original full article by Barry Prentice ~ news.umanitoba.ca

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