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Ministers’ NHS promise rings hollow

Last month in Calgary, the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety got together for its annual meeting and announced that they had agreed to expand the National Highway...




Last month in Calgary, the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety got together for its annual meeting and announced that they had agreed to expand the National Highway System (NHS).

The agreement followed a report and recommendations by the National Highway System Review Task Force.

The Task Force was led by Transport Canada and the New Brunswick Department of Transportation, with participation by all federal, provincial and territorial transportation departments.

Under the Calgary agreement, approximately 4,500 kilometres of feeder routes and 5,900 kilometres of northern and remote routes are being added to the NHS, as well as approximately 500 kilometres of key intermodal connector routes.

According to federal Transport Minister Jean-C. Lapierre, “These roads are being added because they are of strategic importance to Canada, its provinces and regions as they keep people and goods moving efficiently, effectively and safely.”

This latest expansion of the NHS is on top of the additional 2,700 kilometres the ministers added at their September 2004 meeting.

Canada’s NHS was established in 1988 and consists of a 24,500 kilometre network of key inter-provincial and international highway linkages.

The expanded NHS agreed upon last month now encompasses some 38,000 kilometres of key highway linkages – a 55 per cent increase in the system since its inception.

While I don’t want to rain on the ministers’ parade, I am having a hard time getting excited about the new agreement.

Without a funding formula, I am not sure what practical impact this will have.

If there isn’t more money flowing into the network, does it matter how big it is?

It seems to me all the agreement means is that the shortfall between what is needed to bring the NHS up to standard and the level of funding that is actually available is that much greater.

The sad fact is, Canada remains the only major industrialized country on the planet not to have a national highway policy (unless no plan and no funding is a policy).

While the U.S. recently approved a new six-year CDN$300 billion highway trust fund and while the Europeans and the Chinese are re-building the Silk Road, Canada continues to fall further and further behind.

It remains a mystery and a huge frustration to me how a country like Canada – which is so dependent upon trade and its requirement for efficient movement of goods by road for its economic well-being – can be so negligent in terms of a strategic, ongoing funding commitment for maintaining and upgrading the nation’s highways.

The lack of a funded, national highway strategy, combined with the environmental assessment laws, which long ago stopped being about the environment and became all about property values, makes one wonder if we will ever see the kind of investment in highway infrastructure needed to secure the standard of living to which Canadians aspire. With a federal election just months away, this is something we need to remind our politicians of when they come looking for our vote.

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.


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