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DECISIONS 2002: LEGISLATION: Security will dominate feds’ agenda but it won’t wipe out other concerns

It comes as little surprise that security is the number one concern on the federal government's transportation agenda for the immediate future. But Transport Minister David Collenette stresses that th...

It comes as little surprise that security is the number one concern on the federal government’s transportation agenda for the immediate future. But Transport Minister David Collenette stresses that though Cabinet’s immediate focus would be on security issues, there is also a concerted effort underway to ensure that the flow of transportation in all modes is not impeded as a result.

“The border is a big priority especially after the events of September 11. I think you’re going to be very surprised with the degree of determination that the government is going to exhibit with respect to security issues and improvements to trade flows across the country,” Collenette said in a speech at the recent Ontario Trucking Association annual convention. “The Strategic Highway Infrastructure Program (SHIP), announced 18 months ago in the budget, is one such priority.”

SHIP commits $600 million to projects to enhance the national highway system. The program has two components: a $500 million highway construction component and a $100 million national system integration component.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” acknowledged Collenette “but it’s a start back to federal re-engagement in highway construction. One key element within the system integration component is our Border Crossing Transportation Initiative. The $65 million allocated to this will focus on trade efficiency while promoting safety and security at our border crossings.”

Even prior to the events of September 11, said the transport minister, Canada and the US had already started working to harmonize efforts and establish priorities for border projects. But the need became particularly acute in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the U.S., when fear brought trade to a standstill and truckers were stuck at borders.

Collenette said he expects the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation and Government Operations to resume its examination of the proposed hours of service rules shortly. “This is a controversial issue to some but not to as many as has been conveyed,” he said.

Once the security issue has been addressed, Collenette said there were several key priority areas in surface transportation that he would like to target.

“The most pressing surface transportation issue in the country is access to the Ambassador Bridge (at the Windsor-Detroit border.) The free flow of traffic across our borders has become too important to be left to chance. We can’t afford to have the border become a barrier. Having trucks clear the border smoothly and quickly is essential to our economic growth,” said Collenette.

Earlier this year, the governments of Canada, the United States, Ontario and Michigan announced steps to deal with border challenges, commissioning a study to assess the existing transportation network and long-range transportation needs in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario – one of the busiest border crossing regions in the world.

“I agree that we can’t afford to take time with studies but we’ve got to get it right. We have to balance timely border crossings with security concerns. Since September 11, it’s more important than ever to demonstrate that drivers, cargo and equipment are admissible and properly documented. I think you’ll be seeing action soon in initiatives that will be announced by the government over the next few weeks,” said Collenette.

Second most pressing in surface transportation, he stressed, is the need for a highway bypass around Montreal.

And the third priority for surface transportation, said Collenette, is the twinning of the Trans Canada from coast to coast.

“The biggest chunk is through northern Ontario. This could take a lot of money, but I think that this is a national interest. I’ve been told by truckers and trucking companies that if there were four lanes from Ottawa, right across Highway 17, right across northern Ontario and Manitoba, that many trucks (coming from the east coast and Montreal area) would not use the 401/Windsor and U.S. Highways. They would travel in Canada.

“Many Canadian trucking companies delivering goods to western Canada go through the US because the road linkages are better. And that creates a couple of problems. It means that traffic is travelling along an already congested route south of Toronto, and it means that the money being spent by the drivers at stops and for fuel is bought in the US. That’s why I think the twinning of the Trans-Canada is one of the top surface transportation priorities,” he said.

But, noted Collenette, the provinces have a constitutional responsibility for highways, and because of the jurisdictional issues, the provinces have to set the priorities and to be convinced of the priorities within the national system in order for these initiatives to proceed. “I want more money to become available from the federal government to match provincial funds. I’m advocating that and I think we can get more than the $600 million that was announced 18 months ago,” he said.

Last spring, Transport Canada began the process of developing a blueprint for transportation for the next decade and beyond, consulting extensively with stakeholders and provincial and territorial governments, and hosting roundtable meetings with key stakeholders to come to some kind of consensus on integrating transportation policy.

The consulting body, the Canada Transportation Act Review Panel, issued its final report in July with some 90 recommendations on how to improve the national transportation system, but the events of September 11 are expected to delay the passage of any amendments into legislation.

“The Review Panel is making an important contribution to help shape the development of the blueprint, and while the blueprint’s timetable has been delayed somewhat as a result of the events of September 11, I remain committed to this initiative,” Collenette stressed. He expects to release a Strategic Directions Document in early 2002, with the final Transportation Blueprint to be made public later next year and passage of the amendments in the house by Fall 2002.

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