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This article was published 17/3/2021 (189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As governments across Canada carve out an economic path forward from COVID-19, the Business Council of Manitoba is urging that an immediate focus be placed on the future of physical infrastructure and commercial border crossings.
Improving roads, rails, ports and aviation must be top of mind in any federal or provincial budget plans, council president Bram Strain told a virtual conference Tuesday morning, arranged by the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.
"This is about building the foundation for our economy," said Strain. "Provinces in the west, especially, are trading hubs and so we must be able to increase exports. To do that, trade-related infrastructure needs to be leveraged and improved right now."
Speaking on behalf of the chief executive officers from many leading Manitoba companies, Strain said a multi-pronged approach is needed to effectively bring goods to market and raise confidence in the trades sector.
Recovery from the pandemic must start by first building out infrastructure, then renewing a trade corridor in Western Canada, he added. "After that, managing and maintaining government operations will be vital."
"When I became president of the business council, I didn’t think this whole year would be spent on COVID concerns," said Strain. "We realized that resolving and managing health care was the prevailing piece of the puzzle early on.
"What you’re seeing now, as people get vaccinated, is us finally getting to answer those questions about the economic impacts. But our capital market projects are all still completely stalled."
The National Trade Corridors Fund is a "merit-based" program designed to help infrastructure owners and users invest in "critical assets that support economic activity and the physical movement of goods and people," according to the federal government.
A total of $2.3 billion over 11 years has been allocated under the fund. But there have been no updates on this since early 2020.
"Manitoba needs to ensure the flow of people, so the provincial government can also start this process by taking on some important projects that will help kick-start trade activity," said Strain. "And many of them are not only green, but there may even be opportunities for some types of public-private partnerships and tax incremental financing."
Some of those "shovel-ready" projects include:
• Construction of the South Perimeter, Headingley bypasses, or Chief Peguis extension to facilitate improved travel times;
• Rail relocations from within areas of residential commute to the southern end;
• Improvements to Highway 75 South to mitigate flooding;
• Construction of a high-speed interchange at the junction of highways 1 and 16.
"Traditionally, these are large transformational projects that require planning and significant investment from multiple jurisdictions," added Strain.
"That’s why the government should work to its strengths and purpose, which is to plan and turn savings into appropriate investments."
An emphasis must also be placed on making sure infrastructure standards are harmonious with other trade jurisdictions, he said.
"I’m glad to see that the government isn’t panicking as much anymore about recovery from COVID. We’re getting a hundred cases a day maybe, but our death rates and hospitalizations are down, and that’s a good sign.
"Now we need to start taking economic recovery very seriously — that’s what we should be worried about."