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Effective transportation system key to future growth, transport minister asserts

CALGARY, Alta. -- To build an effective transportation system for the future, Canada must recognize emerging trends and opportunities and adapt our systems and policies to capitalize on them, Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure...

CALGARY, Alta. — To build an effective transportation system for the future, Canada must recognize emerging trends and opportunities and adapt our systems and policies to capitalize on them, Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, said today in addressing a luncheon jointly hosted by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and the Van Horne Institute.

Lebel said opportunities in the global economy are about the rise of new economies, such as Brazil, India, China and Russia.

“The bottom line is that they represent potential markets for Canadian businesses, potential economic expansion, and potential jobs for Canadian workers,” Lebel said.

He offered China as an example.

Currently, China is Canada’s second-largest two-way trading partner after the United States. It’s a relationship that is growing rapidly in economic importance and Ottawa is looking to deepen economic ties, open new markets, and set the foundation for long-term growth.

Alberta’s trading relationship with China has more than tripled since 2003, making China Alberta’s second-largest trading partner.  In the last two years, Alberta has seen a surge of Chinese investment in the energy sector while other natural resource exports have also continued to grow.

It’s a similar story with respect to India, and other emerging economies.

“But all of this opportunity is for naught if we don’t have a transportation system to support it. Because while these emerging economies represent potential, they are also challenges to the way we’ve traditionally linked transportation to trade in Canada,” Lebel said, adding we must continue to modernize the nation’s transportation systems and policies.

He cited the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor, a transportation network that brings together all of the key transportation, labour, and logistics providers across the supply chains in a partnership with  all four Western provinces, municipalities and the private sector. More than $3.5 has been spent on infrastructure projects for the corridor and Lebel “some of the lessons learned about aligning systems and maximizing efficiencies” will be applied to other key gateways and corridors in Canada, including critical trade links with the United States.

Over the past decade, Ottawa, together with provincial and territorial partners, has committed over $4 billion dollars for border-related infrastructure projects in an attempt to boost efficiencies. In December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama announced the Action Plan on Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness, containing 32 initiatives.

“The Action Plan is not a final agreement on the border, but rather the beginning of joint efforts to better manage the border over the next few years. I am confident that it will facilitate trade and travel between Canada and the United States, and significantly improve border efficiency and security for both countries,” Lebel said.

He added that legislators must also consider use of the right policy and regulatory tools.

Last November, Lebel announced the appointment of Jim Dinning to lead the facilitation process that is a key part of the measures Ottawa announced in March to respond to the Rail Freight Service Review.

The process brings together shippers, railways, and other stakeholders to develop a template service agreement and a streamlined commercial dispute resolution process.

“To support these commercial measures, I also committed to table a bill once the facilitation process is complete. This will give shippers the right to service agreements with the railways and provide a process to establish such agreements when commercial negotiations fail,” he said. “I also announced our government is leading an analysis of the grain supply chain systems so that we can focus on issues that affect the sector and identify possible solutions.”

This study will take into consideration the new free marketing and sale environment for wheat, durum and barley grown in Western Canada that will be in place for crop year 2012.

Lebel said the “common thread woven through all of this work” is that “instead of isolation, we want integration.”

“It means the days of each transportation mode operating in isolation from one another are over: all must work in concert to truly boost our competitiveness,” he said.

And infrastructure improvements must be based on a “commitment to partnership and collaboration,” according to Lebel.

“For too long, private industry has been ignored when it came to discussing solutions. We’re changing that,” he said.

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