The University of Calgary School of Public Policy is launching a series of engagements this fall, inviting residents across the country to weigh in on the idea of a Canadian Northern Corridor.
The hypothetical 7,000-kilometre corridor of networked infrastructure as a right-of-way across northern Canada was the subject of a research paper published by the school in 2016.
One of the paper’s authors, Dr. Kent Fellows, says it’s about looking at the value of expanding road, rail, pipeline, electrical transmission, and communication connections to improve trade infrastructure between provinces and territories – shortening the gap to national and international markets.
“We’ve been pretty agnostic on the exact path when we’re doing research. So, we’re coming at it from the academic side, but really, we’re interested in Fort St. John as an example of a more northern community in the provinces, one that doesn’t have the same infrastructure and connectivity as the bigger cities,” said Fellows.
‘North’ as a concept is relative, said Fellows, who is keen to hear feedback from local residents as he feels that’s the best way to map the corridor, which still only exists as an abstract idea. The data and input collected could be used by federal and provincial governments in the future to inform policy and infrastructure decisions.
“We also want to look at your connectivity to the south – is that sufficient for community needs? Are there opportunities to grow there? North is a definition that is relative to your position,” Fellows said.
While ambitious, the idea isn’t new – several mid-Canada corridor studies were completed in the 1960s. The majority of the country’s transportation network exists in the south, connected to larger population centres and the bulk of economic activity.
“It all comes back to infrastructure, and are we getting good outcomes in terms of long-term planning for infrastructure and investments?” Fellows said. “I think the history of this country over the last couple of decades is we’re not, really, because we’re focused project by project and the south. We’re not really focused looking north.”
The B.C. Peace region is home to the Alaska Highway, created in a flash during the Second World War, the combined efforts of Canadian and American forces to protect the North – an 80-year legacy still celebrated today.
Protecting Canada’s arctic sovereignty is also a topic touched on by the research, said Fellows, with the opening of waters in the Northwest Passage and the proximity of Russia.
“We’re increasingly concerned about northern security, for a variety of different reasons; you look at Russian aggression in Europe, we do share a border with them,” he said. “There’s a lot of different goals that can be served by getting this area of policy right.”
Fort St. John is the only Northern B.C. stop on the university’s series of engagement sessions, with up to 20 communities being consulted across Canada. The engagement sessions will be held on Sept. 7th, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the North Peace Cultural Centre.