Conservatives pitch a Cross-Canada energy corridor in election platform

In a campaign policy speech this week, Canadian Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced that if he wins this October’s federal election, he will work toward establishing a cross-country “energy corridor” dedicated to rail, power lines, and pipelines – an idea that has been around for over fifty years. In the past, energy infrastructure proposals have failed to secure approval due to tough regulatory processes and community concerns over environmental impacts.

Mr. Scheer said planning for the route would be done up front, in consultation with provinces and Indigenous communities, and a right-of-way would make it easier to lower environmental assessment costs, improve certainty for investors and increase the chances more projects will be built.

Recently, a handful of academics and senators have recommended the federal government give the corridor concept a serious look, including a 2016 University of Calgary paper that offered possible solutions through a northern corridor for transportation and infrastructure. G. Kent Fellows, who co-authored the report, said the right-of-way could be used for roads, rail, pipelines, electricity transmission lines and telecommunications. The study’s proposed 7,000-kilometre corridor would also serve communities well north of the existing east-west routes that run closer to the United States border. In concept, a main line and offshoots would connect ports in northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to Churchill, Man., eastern Quebec and Labrador. Mr. Fellows said dedicated infrastructure corridors have had success in other jurisdictions, including Europe and Australia. Mr. Fellows estimates the creation of a corridor could take decades, upwards of half a century, and a preliminary calculation estimates a cost of CAD $100 billion.

Reviewed by a Senate committee, they published their own report in 2017 and called the corridor idea a “visionary, future-oriented infrastructure initiative” that would create significant economic opportunities for Canada and help develop northern regions. The Senate committee report said, “Because an initiative of this scale and scope would likely take decades to complete, the federal government — on a priority basis — should ensure that a feasibility study on the proposed northern corridor is undertaken.

The committee report credited a 1971 report written by Richard Rohmer, an air-force veteran of D-Day who became a prominent land-use lawyer with the ear of Governor General Roland Michener, who proposed the development of a “mid-Canada” corridor and recommended federal, provincial, and territorial governments make it an urgent priority. The report was presented then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau but the committee said his government never moved forward on the idea.